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From the Honky-tonks to the Palace 




A N * 




by JOE 


coauthor of 
Show Bix From Vaude to Video 

Copyright, 1953, by Joe Laurie, Jr. 

Ml rights reserved, including the right to reproduce 

this book or portions thereof in any form. 

Published simultaneously in the Dominion of Canada by George J. 

McLeod, Ltd. 

First Edition 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 53-9590 

Printed in the United States of America 


who loved me when I couldn't even act much less write 

Twenty years ago my friend Joe Laurie, Jr., told me that he wanted, 
more than anything else, to write the history of vaudeville. As- 
suredly he would be the one to do this work competently, for he 
had been a bright young star at the time when vaudeville and its 
glorious people brought us our happiest contacts with the world 
of entertainment. 

Laurie, as almost everyone knows, is as clever as he is lovable, 
and when vaudeville engagements succumbed to the motion pic- 
ture and to other factors of change, he turned his talents to radio. 
To no one's surprise, he became a star of the air. This success, to- 
gether with Laurie's duties as a Variety columnist, coauthor of 
Show Biz, and special article writer, seemed to sidetrack the work 
on vaudeville history. But always there persisted in Laurie's mind 
the wish to do this history. Now it has been accomplished, and in 
these pages we can relive the days when the two-a-day artists 
brought us exciting glimpsesat moderate cost of the stage. 

Vaudeville folk were a clannish group, more down to earth and 
human, it seemed, than the remote geniuses of the legitimate stage. 
They had fewer swell heads than the ordinary ran of actors, and 
they helped one another at all times. This loyalty and love which 
they had for their fellows somehow showed in their public work, 
and the audience felt a kinship with the gay visitors who called 
once or perhaps twice a season in the smaller cities. 

When television suddenly came to our homes, vaudeville leaped 
back to our affections. There were reunions, so to speak, with many 
old friends such as Smith and Dale and Ed Wynn. 

This definitive book by Joe Laurie, Jr., is not only of historical 
import, but gives us a correct view of an art that charmed our 
fathers and ourselves at a time when bickerings and greecl and 
hatred and envy were not our principal characteristics. 



Joe Laurie does not know it, but he is a shrewd psychologist, a 
gifted observer, and in terms of his own unstudied style a talented 
writer. And, of course, a grand little guy, a graduate of vaudeville 
in the best tradition. 


A deep bow (and I hope an encore) to my friend and editor Bill 
Raney, for his indispensable help, advice, interest, and understand- 
ing for which I shall be forever grateful. And to my old and dear 
pal, Gene Fowler, for his encouragement of my scribbling, and a 
bend-of-the-knee to all those that have been booked-out-of-town, 
and from whom I learned so much about the business there's 
nothing like, SEZ 


Foreword by Gene Fowler vll 


Lights Dim Curtain About to Go Up 3 

Exit Laughingly 8 

Lefty's Idea of How It Started 9 

And they Called 'em Dumb Acts! 20 

The Last Eight Bars Forte Professor! 38 

The Sketch 47 

The Single Woman 53 

Vaudeville Music 60 

Assorted Chirpcrs 74 

The Two-man Act 81 

She-He's and He-She's 87 

TransfiguratorsI 96 

Mimics 99 

Abracadabra 104 

Special Attraction! 118 

A Fair Exchange 132 

The Blackface Acts 1 39 

Meet the Family 143 

Animal Acts 155 

Monologists and Entertainers 170 

The Negro in Vaudeville 201 

Printer's Ink and Grease Paint 207 

Freak and Odd Acts 214 

The Mixed Act 226 

Big Acts, Girl Acts, Flash Acts, and Tabs 232 

The Small Time 237 

Big Pay Checks 250 

Memories with Laoghs 257 

Grapes of Laughter 265 

The Cherry Sisters 272 

Three Meals a Day and a Bluff 276 

You Mustn't Say That! 286 

Theatrical Clubs 292 

The Lambs 304 

The White Rats and the N.V.A. 310 

Firsts 317 

Accompanied by . . . 325 


Tony Pastor 333 
Benjamin Franklin Keith 337 
Edward Franklin Albce 342 
John J. Murclock 348 
Percy G. Williams 353 
Martin Beck 359 
I 1 ', F, Proctor 365 
William Morris 370 
Marcus Locw 374 

It Runs In the Family 380 
Sylvester Z. Poli 397 
Alexander Pantages 401 
James Austin Fynes 403 
And Not Forgetting . . . 407 


Introduction by Epes W. Sargent 417 

The Monologist 420 

The Man and Woman Act 423 

The School Act 427 

The Storyteller 431 

The Dramatic Sketch 433 

The Stump Speech 438 

The Ventriloquist 440 

The Double Dutch Act 444 

The Double Wop Act 448 

The Double Irish Act 452 

The Straight and the Jew 454 

The Two-woman Act 458 

Double Blackface Act 461 

The Comedy Skelch 465 

The Afterpiece 469 

The Parody Singers 474 

Odds and Unds 478 

The Palace 481 

The State Theatre 499 

The Big Parade 504 

Index 513 




to Go Up 

This book was written with love and memories for all of Lad) 
Vaudeville's children! To the boys and girls I played with foi 
many years in the fun garden of show biz VAUDEVILLE! 

With especial thanks to the Pilgrims of vaude who through 
pioneering in the honky-tonks and the free-and-easies made 
variety, and who later through their originality, breeziness, and 
freshness made vaudeville possible. They started in sawdust and 
floundered on velvet! They are entitled to the glory, living or 
dead, for they blazed the trail to make vaudeville the number one 
entertainment of a nation for nearly half a century! 

It wasn't all fun. There are lingering memories of damp base- 
ment dressing rooms, layoffs, empty stomachs, long jumps for 
short dough (sometimes no dough), cancellations after the first 
show, terrible orchestras, amateur stagehands, lousy boarding- 
houses with cold rooms in winter and hot ones in summcr 7 dirty 
day coaches with the smell of oil lamps swinging overhead, greasy 
grub, and, worse than all this, flopping. Of course, if you were a 
hit, all the other discomforts were forgotten. Tt all turned into a 
fairyland a fake fairyland! For we were young and ambitious and 
gauged our happiness by applause and laughs! 

When you finished serving yoiir apprenticeship by playing every 
slab in all the whistle slops to all kinds of audiences from the 
ones that you thought were painted on the seats to the ones that 
applauded, laughed, stomped their feet, and whistled and some- 
times threw pennies! your diploma was a full route sheet, play-or- 
pay contracts, good orchestras, able stagehands, good hotels, 
decent food, comfortable rooms, riding on plush, and playing the 
Big Time to reserved seats and maybe ending up at the Palace, 
on Broadway, with your name out in front, no matter how small. 
The only thing to top all this was the gathering in comradeship 
after the show to exchange laughs, dreams, and hopes! 

Lefty's Letters 4 

There were many reasons for the passing of vaudeville, Pics at 
first helped vaude, and vice versa; then came talkies and radio. 
But the vaude termites started working when the ears of the 
managers became dulled by the clink of gold in the box office. 
Vaudeville dropped its manners and grosses when the "goose" 
became the coat of arms of its comedians. Brashness and vulgarity 
superseded talent and industry. On the part of management, there 
was hypocrisy and egotism. They beat down the opposition, 
starved the vaude actor, kidded him, made a spy of him on his 
fellow artists by dangling forty-week routes before his caved-in 
stomach. They had a blacklist that kept many a good act away 
from the big-time bills on which they belonged. And as they 
stalled the actor, the actor became stale. "We don't care if you 
copy anybody; is it cheap?" became the motto. 

Pictures played to masses and classes; vaude played in a limited 
sphere. Picture houses with their tremendous seating capacities 
and continuous performances could outbid the vaude managers 
for the standard acts. The salaries became fantastic, through 
competition rising so high that even the most prosperous pic 
houses couldn't afford to pay them, but they did, until vaude was 
killed. It was then that they eliminated vanclc and went back to 
straight pics, using acts only when they needed live attractions 
to help out a bad picture. Now TV has taken over what's left 
of vaudeville, but still it's a "picture under glass/' It hasn't the 
warmth, the neighborliness, the friendliness, and the clasp and 
hug and closeness of vaudeville in the flesh! Progress? Maybe! 

The vaudeville we knew from the turn of the century to i)^ 
when the Palace closed its stage door and practically tacked up n 
sign reading "Vaudeville Dispossessed/' the real, honest; vital 
vaudeville of the old two-a-day of the Palace (and other bi^-f inic 
vaude) will never return. Real two-a-day vaude was a personalised 
business. The theaters were small; you could almost touch the 
actors on the stage. Their personalities reached over the footlights; 
you could see every change of expression; you could hear every 
word, catch every intonation. There was a free movement; uo 
microphones got in the way! 

The spirit of vaudeville will never die as long as there are 
ambitious kids jigging on cellar doors, doing acrobatics in barns, 
juggling apples, playing instruments in the school bands, bar- 
monixing "Sweet Adeline/' making faces in the mirror, put ting 


on Dad's and Mom's clothes and "playing theater/' and telling 
"jokes"! Every town and hamlet in the United States is a silo of 
future talent. Like reincarnation, vaude will keep coming back in 
other forms. But big-time vaude is now just a sweet memory! 

I have been in almost every branch of the show biz (even owned 
a tent show that was to have Bob Benchley, Gene Fowler, Hey- 
wood Broun, Dorothy Parker, and Ben Hecht as actors, but it 
folded before they could even read their contracts). But my 
"brag" is vaudeville, not only because it was my cradle, but be- 
cause I saw vaudeville feed every branch of the show biz with 
talented, starry-eyed children of smiles, knights of song and dance, 
contortionists, magicians, monologists, serio-comics, sketch artists, 
acrobats, minstrels, and even the freak act, the black sheep of the 
vaudeville family. They are all Lady Vaudeville's children their 
father was Entertainment! 

I feel I can tell you the story of vaudeville better through rny two 
favorite vaudevillians, Lefty and Aggie. 

Lefty and Aggie are a composite of all the great men and women 
that niaclc the long march from the honky-tonks to the Palace, on 
Broadway and Forty-seventh Street, New York City (the last known 
address of vaude). 

When the vaudeville they knew died, they too died a little. 
Through Lefty and Aggie's Blickcnsdorfcr typewriter, their mem- 
ories, and their hearts, they will try to recall the clays of the two-, 
three-, four-, and even fivc-a<lay. The clays when actors weren't on 
an assembly line, when comedians didn't worry about tomorrow's 
jokes while telling them today, as they clo in radio ancl TV in 1953. 
They will try to recapture the clays when we all joined the parade to 
the golden stage cloor of the Palace: some of us tried hard to make 
it, and did; some fell by the wayside, because they didn't get the 
breaks which are so necessary to success in show biz; ancl many more 
quit because the journey was a little too long for them. They will 
try to recapture the clays in vaude when we would all gather after 
the show for a session of shoptalk ancl laughs, instead of huddling 
with lawyers ancl business managers trying to figure a way to beat 
the tax or to keep more money with fewer ulcers! 

The nicest people in show biz are the ones that ate wriggling 
their way to the top; they listen to everybody and take everybody's 
advice until they click then they seldom listen to anybody. But 

Lefty's Letters 6 

there is nothing more inspiring to an old-timer than to see a kid 
building his ladder to climb to the stars! 

Lefty and Aggie were what they call "theatrical-trunk babies/ 7 
Their mothers used the bureau drawers for cribs, and hotel towels 
for diapers. When the parents were on the stage the kids were 
baby-sitted by acrobats, comedians, tragedians, and song-and-clance 
men. They took their first bows at the age of two, did a "time 
step" at three, and, where the law allowed it, worked in the act at 
six. The New York Clipper was their McGuffey's Reader, and they 
learned geography through the day-coach windows and history by 
living it. They weren't educated but they are intelligent. When 
grammar and spelling were being passed around, they were busy 
rehearsing "off-to-Buffalo" or how to take a prat fall. They didn't 
want to be professors they wanted to do a specialty in vaudeville. 

Aggie was a good wife and did a good "straight" for Lefty. She 
could make her own costumes and press and mend Lefty's clothes 
when she had to. She could do plain cooking on a stove or a gas 
jet and stretch a buck over a week end by saying, "Go ahead and 
eat, Lefty, I ain't a bit hungry/' Lefty was a good husband, always 
fixing up the act and making daily rounds of the agents and book- 
ing offices. His wants were few. As long as Aggie looked good, with 
"decent threads," and he kept fairly busy, had a pack of cigarctlcs, 
and could afford a nip now and then he was happy. But most of all 
he wanted someone to talk to about show biz and have laughs, 

They were the kind of people that shared their little flat; and 
little food with pals waiting for a break. They were church people 
(any church) and saicl their prayers every clay in their own church, 
the Theater. That's a pretty religious place, that "first entrance/' 
It's there that you see the boys and girls crossing themselves and 
kissing mmizahs (the Commandments in Hebrew in a tiny case) 
-and asking The Almighty to make them a hit! Being a hit meant 1 
they could take earc of their parents, or maybe a crippled sister or 
brother, or poor relatives, Lefty and Aggie saw that their kids ^ot 
good schooling and became decent citizens. And they were proud 
but disappointed when they turned out to be doctors, lawyers, or 
engineers instead of actors. 

They never asked what your religion was or even noticed your 
color, They weren't prudes or reformers. If you had talent, a Rood 
story, or were just good company, that was your ticket to get in 
the magic circle of performers. 'They'd get; up from a sick bed to 


play a benefit, and sometimes would even give their most prized 
possession part of their routine to someone who was trying to get 
started. Lefty and Aggie are real nice folks. They're show folks, 
who loved show biz as show biz loved them. 

Lefty was the kind of guy who was stuffed with unimportant 
info. He could tell you where he played in 1890 and who was on 
the bill and how they got over. He could tell you what time he 
took a train out of Rock Island for Milwaukee twenty-five years 
ago. He could tell you the first names of the managers, orchestra 
leaders, stage managers, doormen, and even the spotlight man in 
every theater he ever played in. He could tell you how much excess 
he paid in Des Moines and the salary of every act. He knew every 
boardinghouse and theatrical hotel and the laundries that ruined 
his cuffs. He knew the real names of most of the actors and what 
they did before they went into show biz. But he never knew who 
was President. If he did know, it was because there was a gag about 
him. "Can the President do a wing like this?" "I never knew a 
President that could even do a time step." He kidded because he 
had to pay taxes and had to give his kids to the army and navy. 
And if you caught him away from his gags, he could even give you 
a good idea how the government should be run. 

Lefty and Aggie knew the right guys and the chiselers. They 
would give a good artist his clue even, if they disliked him person- 
ally, "lie is a great performer on the shelf (stage), but personally 
he is a louse he stole a gag from a friend of ours/' 

Lefty and Aggie have young hearts with a white-haired memory, 
but even they couldn't mention all the standard acts that were in 
vaiidc, because it would make this book look like a telephone di- 
rectory. Everybody was important in vaudeville, from the guy that 
opened the show in Pratt Falls, Montana, to the heaclliiier at the 
Palace on Broadwayl lliosc be mentions arc no more important 
than those he left out, so if your name isn't in this book, it isn't 
because yon weren't important, or that Lefty and Aggie didn't 
remember you, but because they just couldn't get it out of their 
hearts in time for printing. SEZ 

Vaude-willingly yours, 


Lefty's Letters 

Vaudeville was first started in the Garden of Eden! Adam was the 
first to do a specialty acthe ate an apple! His audience was Eve 
and the Snake; they sat in the tree and applauded. No doubt Eve 
and the Snake even laughed (snakes didn't know how to hiss until 
a gallery was built in the tree). When Adam ate the apple he 
must have laughed too, and so the apple stuck in his throat, and 
that's where folks have carried the apple ever since. That made 
Adam a sort of freak act, and when they were thrown out of the 
Garden of Eden, they went out as a man-and-woman act on the 
first road tour in the world's history, and it also marked the first 

Cain and Abel were the first two-man act. Cain was the straight 
man, hitting Abel with a club instead of a newspaper. Noah dicl a 
circus act with a special attraction: his son was a ITam. 

Then came the tribes, and when one primitive clansman would 
dance a bit better than the others or make himself unclcrslootl in 
pantomime, he became the medicine man, the origin of the head" 
liner. This was followed by the jesters with their caps and bells, 
who made kings laugh as they turned handsprings; they were the 
first comedy acrobats. Then came the bards with their lyres and 
their songs and stories. They preserved history with their voices. 
They were the first minstrels, Aaron dicl a magic act when ho turned 
an ordinary shepherd's staff into a snake, while Moses was an illu- 
sionist, splitting the Reel Sea and walking the Children of Israel 
across it. 

Solomon dicl a singing act using his own material, the Song of 
Solomon. Jonah clicl a tank act, while Joseph must have done, a 
quick-change act with his coat of many colon, Nero clicl a violin 
solo, Daniel a lion act, and David a sharpshootiug act with his 

So, you see, vaudeville started when the world began. Cod must 
have laughed when he saw the first man; he must have looked as 
funny then as lie does now. So it all started with n laitfth, stud it 
s'orl* of became a slogan with the children of vauclcviHc"Kxil' 


of It 

Dear Joe, 

Me and Aggie read that stuff of yours how you figured vaudeville 
started in the Garden of Eden. It was a bit corny, but we got a 
laugh out of it 

At that, you are as near right as a lot of these professors who 
have been writing stuff in books about how and when it started. 
You know me and Aggie have been around a long time; in fact it 
was Aggie that dug down into her grouch bag for the twenty-four 
bucks to pay off the Indians for the Island of Manhattan! I read 
a lot of stuff these pen-pushers wrote about vaudeville (of course 
skipping the big words) and find a half a dozen opinions. 

Some say that vaudeville is as old as drama itself. When the 
Greeks presented their classic plays, strolling players were doing 
vaudeville stunts. Some say the name Vaudeville came from a val- 
ley in Normandy, the Veil de Vire, while others say she was chris- 
tened on the banks of the Seine centuries ago. Her sire (that's the 
professor's word; you certainly know it ain't mine) is supposed to 
have been a Fuller (who like guys in those days took his name from 
his job, that of fulling the earth). Each evening his workers gave 
virevaude or vaudevire or vire vire entertainment. Then another 
professor sez it started in the eighteenth century with a pop form 
of entertainment of light dramatics, consisting of pantomime, 
dances, songs, and dialogues written In couplets (that sent me to 
Webster). Vau-de-vire was the name given to the convivial (the 
last one means something like getting stewed) songs of the fifteenth 
century. Then still another long-hair scz the name originated with 
a literary association as the Compdnons Gdlois, i.e., boon com- 
panions or gay comrades in the Valley of the Vire or Virene in 
Normandy. The most famous author of these songs was Oliver 
Basselm, When in the seventeenth century the term had been ap- 
plied to satiric verses current in the towns, it was corrupted into its 
present form either from vau-de-viUe or voix-de-viHe. Don't blame 
me for this, Joe, I just copied what I read. I personally think it's 
bunkl Only those professors have a way with words that can make 
you believe almost anything. 

Lefty's Letters 10 

I do know there were quite a few guys in America who claimed 
they coined the word "vaudeville/ 7 In 1871 there was Sargent's 
Great Vaudeville Co., billed from the National Theatre in Cin- 
cinnati, played at Weisiger's Hall, at Louisville, Ky., and he 
claimed that was the first time the word was used instead of "va- 
riety" (which was what vaudeville was called originally). M. S. 
Leavitt, a great showman, also claimed that he was the first to use 
the word "vaudeville," as did John W. Ransom, who claimed he 
used it while Keith was still a candy butcher in a circus. So it's 
a case of "put up your dough and take yer chcrce/' I do know 
that originally it was called Variety (which it was), then Vaude- 
ville, Advanced Vaudeville, Refined Vaudeville, Progressive Vaude- 
ville. And when it was almost dead they called it Glorified 

I claim that vaudeville was started by guys showing off, Whew 
a guy figured lie could sing, dance, juggle, clo flip-flops better than 
the other guy (and that goes for the first guy to throw a javelin 
that hit its mark), he took it to the public who were always willing 
to pay for the best in entertainment- Then sonic smarly came along 
and put the different acts together and called it variety, and when 
it got on a paying basis they called it vaudeville, to get away from 
the word "variety," which meant, in the early days, a stag show. 

We know there were a lot of minstrel shows during the Civil 
War and there was a lot of talent roaming around the country 
"buskin'/' Now here's another word that professors hop on and 
give you a half a dozen double-talk meanings, ! went to Webster, 
who says (and I'm copying it, kid), "Busk a nautical term to 
"cruise as a pirate/ 'to search everywhere/ 'to beat about." ** Ami in 
my opinion that's just what the amateurs have always done. The 
show folks called it "buskin'," not because it's the name of a shoe 
that Ihc legits wore when they played Romans; but because the 
guys "cruised around" lo find a place for their talents* A saloon 
was the natural place to go to, as the customers were looking For 
entertainment Most of the customers were sailors and no donbt 
started to eall these guys "buskers/' and then the performers #ol 
lo saying, 4 Tm going buskin" tonight/" Now, Joe, this is my own 
idea how it was called "buskin'/' and I am entitled to if' as much 
as the profcssorsl 

A "busker" .sang or danced, then passed the hat or picked up his 


"throw money. 77 They got so that they even hired a shill to start 
throwing a few coins to kinda start off the collection. 

The saloonkeepers noticed that the customers liked this side 
entertainment and stayed in the place buying more drinks. Some 
of the smarter ones added a little stage and a piano player, then 
added boxes with curtains, so the big spenders could have a little 
privacy (for an extra charge, of course), hostesses, and, naturally, 
gambling tables. These places were soon known as "free-and-easies" 
or "honky-tonks," giving low-down stag entertainment. They spread 
from coast to coast. Some were elaborate, charging admissions, 
while most were just gambling houses and saloons providing enter- 
tainment. You would enter the bar, pass the gambling tables, then 
enter the "hall." 

It's funny how they practically use the same idea today in Las 
Vegas. You can go there, live at a first-class hotel, eat great food, 
and see blue-chip entertainment for less than it costs any place 
in the world. But to get to the powder room you must go via the 
Casino where all the gambling tables are, and there are very few 
(especially women) that can resist dropping a few bucks while en 
route. It is all done in first-class style and lawfully, but it's the old 
honky-tonk idea, in plush and without hostesses! 

The honky-tonks used many hostesses working the boxes. These 
gals worked on commission, sitting with the customers to get them 
to buy drinks. They would drink with the customers but would 
usually get tea that looked like whisky and was charged as whisky 
to the sucker (if you can call a guy with a lot of dough a sucker) . 
They still use the trick today in spots that use hostesses. The gals 
got a check for every drink ordered, which they cashed at the end 
of the night's work. To make the girls more attractive to the 
"Johns/' the management had them open the show with a song 
and a simple dance. They clrcsscd in soubrctte costumes, short 
skirts and low necks. This, of course, made them actresses and more 
desirable to the Johns. Some of the girls would take turns doing a 
single and would get throw money, adding to their commissions. 

The gals soon got wise that they could make more and easier 
money while singing than by sitting with the Johns all night guz- 
zling bad tea and worse booze and getting pawed. Their percentage 
on drinks was small, about 20 per cent tops for wine and a smaller 
percentage for liquor and beer. They started telling their friends 
not to spend their dough on booze for them but to throw the money 

Lefty's Letters u 

to them when they were on the stage singing. It was a common 
sight to see a gal singing a heart-rending ballad while picking up 
coins (the same as the kids did years later at Amateur Nights), 

It didn't take long for the owners to get wise to what was going 
on. They passed a rule that it was unladylike and unprofessional 
to have the performers pick up the throw money, so to save embar- 
rassment they would pick it up and give the girls 20 per cent of the 
take. That ended one of the first theatrical rackets and turned 
saloonkeepers into managers! 

The honky-tonks, free-and-easies, and museums were really the 
future vaudeville's cradle for talent. In these places they played to 
all types of audiences, sometimes doing fifteen shows a clay. As long 
as there was a customer buying, he had to be entertained The 
comedians wrote their own stuff, the song-and-dancc men wrote 
ditties and created new dance steps. The show usually followed a 
set pattern: Opening chorus by the "ladies" (the start of chorus 
girls), then came the song-and-dancc men, musical mokes, two- 
men acts, quartettes, contortionists, etc. Nearly everybody knew 
how to plunk a banjo. The show would finish with an "afterpiece" 
in which the entire company took part. (That's how many acrobats 
learned how to talk.) These afterpieces were practically ad-libbed 
sketches. The boys would talk it over at the first rehearsal, and from 
then on it was a case of every man for himself. In this way these 
skits became familiar to the actors, and so when someone would 
say, "Let's do 'Slim Dcmpsey' or 'Ghost in the Pawnshop' " or 
dozens of others, they all knew the general layout and it was jtist 
a case of what part you'd play, Many actors became known for cer- 
tain parts in afterpieces. And some of afterpieces became 
classics in vaudeville and on the legitimate stage. "The Hut him; 
Girls/' sometimes called "Dr. Holcomb/' a particularly dirty fcit 
which Denman Thompson wrote and played in honky-tonks, be- 
came the famous legit play, 'The Old Homestead/' winch played 
on Broadway and toured the country for many years u*> per cent 
ptirel It made Thompson rich and famous* Another pretty dirty 
afterpiece called "The Book Agent/' which the famous team of 
Kvans and Ilocy played in honky-ltmks, later became "A Parlor 
Ma teh" in the late i88os> and was a big success all over the country* 

Some of the girls 1 who made their debuts in show bix as hostesses 
and singers became very good performers, and many married actors. 
They would do a double act and play the regular variety theaters 


and in the slack season go back to the "wine rooms/ 7 where the 
missis would work the boxes between shows to add to the family 
income. Some of the greatest stars of yesteryear, both male and 
female, got their start in honky-tonks! 

In the 'yos and '8os there were hundreds of museums, honky- 
tonks, and beer halls. Some theaters were permitted to serve beer. 
(In later years Hammerstein's Victoria, on Forty-second Street and 
Broadway, and the Metropolitan Opera House were the only two 
theaters in New York City with bar licenses.) It was a rough, lusty, 
booming, guzzling time. People were seeking amusement wherever 
they could find it. People were learning how to play. And, brother, 
in those honky-tonks you sure could play, from dice to wine, 
women, and song. 

One of the best of the old free-and-easies of the early days was 
Harry Hill's on Houston and Crosby streets in New York. Besides 
presenting specialty acts he ran an athletic club with boxing, club 
swinging, bag punching, walking contests, and song and dance and 
drama. Owney Gagan's at Bowery and Hester streets would also 
stage boxing bouts, with Owney himself meeting all comers, whom 
lie quickly knocked out. It was later discovered that he had the 
"difference" in the form of a small horseshoes in his glove. If the 
opponent was tough, he would back him against the backdrop, 
where an assistant hit the guy on the konk with a bung-starter from 
behind the drop, saving Owney the $25 offered anyone who could 
slay three rounds with him. 

Jack Berry's Varieties on Greenwich Street, the Alhambra at 124 
West Twenty-seventh Street, Spencer's at Bowery and Houston 
streets, the Aquarium on Broadway and Thirty-fifth Street (away 
uptown in those clays), the Brighton, where Will H. Fox, who 
later became the first comedy pianist in vaude, played piano 
and where Joe K. ("I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now?") How- 
ard would audition songs. Nigger Mike's, where Irving Berlin per- 
formed as a singing waiter ancl Jules Saranoff playccl the violin. 
The White Elephant; a tourist joint, a novelty place the rooms 
were dressed in mourning ancl the tables were caskets. Ilartigan's 
Saloon at Chatham Square, where General Grant was a customer 
when in town, Charlie Pinkunelly owned Paresis Hall on the Bow- 
cry (Jake Isaacs was the bartender), Fred Fleck was the alderman 
of the district, and the guy outside writing calling cards in a fine 
Spcnccrian pen for 25 cents a dozen was Al Woods, who later 

Lefty's Letters u 

became one of the great Broadway producers and took both these 
gentlemen Into his organization. But Koster and Dial's at Twenty- 
third street west of Sixth Avenue was the tops in wine rooms, play- 
ing the best imported and domestic acts. (Williams & Walker 
started here in their first New York appearance.) It was the "class" 
of all the wine rooms in the country. 

There was a regular circuit of honky-tonks in the West, not 
organized, but the performers laid out their own routes, writing 
direct to the managers for time. The usual route of a recognized 
performer was to open at Salt Lake and finish up in New Orleans. 
The jumps were pretty big, so they'd book themselves for five to 
six weeks in each place. When an act arrived, he would get a hand- 
ful of checks good at the bar (they were charged to him), and 
many performers got into the management so deep that the man- 
agement had to keep them for a few extra weeks so they could 
collect the monies owed. A good spender (and gambler) was always 
booked back. They do the same today in the top night clubs in 
the country where gambling is allowed. Many of our present-clay 
headliners are also gamblers and many times leave their salary (and 
sometimes LO.U.s) at the gaming tables. The management prac- 
tically gets its entertainment for free with this kind of guy, 

George Manioc's People's Theatre was the stand in Salt Lake 
City (he also ran the Novelty in Ogdcn). Gordon and Richard's 
Comique in Butte, Montana, was the next stop. Here they used to 
put the afterpiece on at 7 A.M., and the miners, dinner pails in 
hand, stopped off for a shot of liquor and entertainment on the 
way to work. At Helena, Chicago Joe ran the Coliseum, Then 
they'd go to Great Falls and Missoula, and then on to Spokane at 
Big Bertha's Casino and Comique, Big Bertha weighed about 450 
pounds, was a smart operator, and, had a great joint Her show 
would start at 7 PJVL and finish at 2 A.M., when the men in the 
afterpiece would take positions on the stage and ad-lib for an hour 
about topics of the clay, 'lliis gave the gals another hour to colled' 
commissions. At 3 A.M. everybody lined up and sang "Aulcl Lung 
Sync" after eight straight hours of entertainment. The late John 
Cort, the famous Broadway manager, producer, and theater owner 
also owned honky-tonks in Seattle, Portland, and Victoria, B.C, 

Frank Nelson ran the Comique in Taeoma- From there the per- 
formers went to Frisco, the New York City of the West. (And you 
know I'm a New Yorker, but the old Frisco was at limes even better 


than New York. They always loved actors and actors loved Frisco.) 
The Wigwam was one of the few variety places that was sort of 
family style and about the only one in the West at that time 
(about 1886) that didn't run a wine room. Walters, who had a 
lot to do with the Orpheum Circuit's beginning, ran it. Later a 
guy by the name of Meyers, who was supposed to originate the 
crack, "Well, if you're a comedian, now's your chance to make me 
laugh/ 7 ran it. He'd tell you this when you told him your salary 
and in an empty barroom! 

There was a bunch of honky-tonks in Frisco. The greatest of 
them was the Belle Union, that had a rep in those days like the 
Palace on Broadway many years later. Anybody that made good 
there had a free ticket to any honky-tonk in the country. The shows 
at the Belle Union were strictly stag and would have made even 
Minsky blush. Junie McCree and Johnny Ray (John and Emma 
Ray) were great favorites there. Another well-known spot was the 
Crcmonde. They were the only two houses where the girls were 
allowed to mingle with the audience. There were a lot of smaller 
honkies in the city, like Theatre Comique, White Elephant, Bottle 
Kocnig's, Eureka Hall, Bottle Meyer's, Elite, Olympic, and many 
more. When actors finally got out of Frisco (which no performer 
wanted to) they went to the Perry Brothers' Club Theatre in Los 
Angeles (one of the greatest money-makers in the West), Joe 
Bignon's in Phoenix, Arizona, Sherwood's Mascot in Galveston, 
Texas, then the Camp Street Theatre in Dallas, which was run by 
Belle Houston and George Woods. Woods also ran the hotel and 
you had to stop there if you wanted to play his theater. He disliked 
Hebrew comedians, but his audience liked them and insisted on 
his booking them. He had a cute way of getting even with any 
Hebrew performer that played his place. He would serve pork at 
most of the meals, Joe Welch told me that he wanted to get even 
with him by stealing the towels in the hotel, but the guy didn't 
have individual towels, just a roller towel in the hall. After a week 
it looked like crepcl 

The famous Swor Brothers and Tom Bceson (father of Lulu 
Bees on, who won the Fox Medal for buck dancing) got their start 
at the Camp Street Theatre in Dallas, their home town. Fanny 
Prestige ran the Academy in West Superior, Wisconsin, She was a 
big blond character who wore a sealskin coat over a Mother Hub- 
bard and eight-carat diamond earrings. Then there was the Parlor 

Lefty's Letters m 

Theatre, Duluth, Minnesota, which was practically a store with 
the front window shuttered. They were not allowed to serve liquor 
in a place of amusement in Duluth, so they got this store next door 
to the bar, made a hole in the wall, room enough for one guy at 
a time to go through during intermissions. They also had a mid- 
night closing law, so the actors liked to play this place because it 
was easy work and a lot of "fun' 7 ! 

Besides these honky-tonks, there were also hundreds of museums 
throughout the country where, besides the freaks and curio halls, 
there usually was a small theater. Because of the small stage, they 
only played small, stand-up acts. Aerial wire walkers and animal 
acts couldn't play these places; in fact jugglers had to be careful 
not to throw their balls or clubs too high, as there was very little 
headroom. Some places played one-act dramas. An actor once said, 
'When we played a war drama, everybody had to be privates, be- 
cause a general's epaulets couldn't get through the first entrance!" 
After the show in the Main Hall, they'd sell a five- or ten-cent 
ticket for the "theater/' a is^-scatcr. Some had a few reserved seats 
(10 cents extra), while the rest of the audience stood up. To do 
fifteen or twenty shows a clay was just a walkover. Some of the top 
museums were Austin and Stone's and Filling's in Boston, Kpstein's 
on Randolph street in Chicago, Wonderland in Minneapolis and 
Wonderland in St. Paul, Avery's in Cincinnati, Comers' in Alle- 
gheny, Pennsylvania, Davis's in Pittsburgh (he later became one 
of the great two-a-day vauclc managers), Brandcnbcrg's in Phila- 
delphia, Huber's on East Fourteenth Street in New York City, and 
of course the Eden on West Twenty-third Street, which was high- 
class and ran a higher grade of entertainment. The ones I men- 
tioned were the tops of the museum circuit, show hi/* kindergartens 
preparing talent for variety houses. 

Now, Joe, these honky-tonks and museums were doing plenty 
good missionary work for future vaudeville. Besides {raining future 
greats, they made the people amusement conscious. But" it' was* 
pretty low and raw entertainment, catering mostly to star; audi- 
ences. So it was on July 31, 186!; (I wasn't there but Ar^ie was, 
ha ha), that a great guy, a singing clown in a circus (yeh downs 
used to sing and talk in the old circus slunvs) figured thai variety 
should have a real theater where ladies and gentlemen and children 
could attend without being ashamed. So on that day hi* opened 
Tony Pastor's Opera House at 199-201 Bowery, Now York City. 


He had gas footlights, and when they turned them on the audi- 
torium was filled with the smell before the stagehand would come 
out and light the foots with a long wax taper. The smell of gas 
tangled with that of oranges, apples, cigars, pipes, and cigarettes. 
But the audience didn't mind, and the actors never complained 
about gas hurting their voices. In those days they received small 
salaries and had no temperament. Besides, gas was like an oxygen 
tank compared to the air inhaled in honky-tonks, wine rooms, and 
museums. And remember, too, they had no union! 

Tony Pastor's was a big hit, and so was another circus guy, who 
started out as a candy butcher, Benjamin Franklin Keith, who laid 
the cornerstone in Boston for what was to become the greatest 
vaudeville circuit in the world! 

When Pastor and Keith started, it was a sort of catch-as-catclv 
can business. It was nothing like the fine organized biz that it later 
became. Anybody that could sing, dance, whistle, bend in the 
middle, do a flip-flop, or play an instrument joined the ranks of the 
variety "artists," as they called 'em later, but we called 'em all 
"Preformers." If you liked a guy, you called him "cull" or "bo." 
They came from all walks of life, lured by adventure and the 
glamor of the stage and most of all the dough! The dough meant 
more to the guys an,d gals at that time than applause, although 
the more applause you got, the more dough you got. But most of 
the variety actors (and that goes for all other actors) came from 
poor families. Their fathers had to get up maybe at 6 A.M. to get 
to work, so being able to sleep until noon had a great appeal (be- 
sides the applause), and being an actor was much nicer work than 
being a truck driver, a factory hand, a clerk, or a laborer. Earning 
$25 to $75 a week (a banker's salary in those days) and being able 
to sleep late, dress flashily, and get applause were hard to resist. 

There were lots of chances in those days to sneak into show biz. 
There were frcc-and-casics, store shows, museums, showboats, burly 
shows, dramatic shows, medicine shows, wagon shows, and minstrel 
shows using variety acts and specialties. The field was large and 
there was room for nearly everybody with or without talent. The 
managers had nothing to lose. They paid a small wage (you fur- 
nished costume and music) and could cancel you any time they 
pleased, so there was nothing to lose in giving an amateur a chance. 
The ones with talent and originality and ability soon became the 
standard and headline acts (as in any biz), the mediocre ones were 

Lefty s Letters W 

used as fill-ins, and the no-talent guys grabbed anything they could 
get and tried to hang on as long as possible. You know, being an 
old performer doesn't make you good. We had a hell of a lot of 
bad old performers! It's like the time Joe Jefferson (who made Rip 
Van Winkle famous) was walking along Broadway with his son, 
and as they passed an elderly gentleman Jefferson nodded. "Who 
was that?" asked Junior. 'That is an old amateur who has been in 
the theater for many years," said his old man. 

The salaries, as I said, weren't much in those days, but it took 
very little dough to live. Many of the acts did light housekeeping 
in little flats and others lived in boardinghouses where for a buck 
you could get three meals a day and a room with a window. And 
there were kind-hearted landladies who "carried" you when you 
were laying off. And then there were the guys who lived in fur- 
nished rooms for three bucks a week (with a skylight and no win- 
dow, a buck and a half) and depended for their meals on the free 
lunches served in the saloons, and some of them were better than 
they served in the boardinghouses. The better paid actors used to 
live at the Morton House or the Union Square Hotel on Fourteenth 
street and Fourth avenue. 

The big worry was wardrobe for both street and stage wear, as 
a good "flash" (prosperous appearance) on and off made the act 
more valuable. Many of the actors would invest their surplus (?) 
dough in on-time jewelry. The favorite hunks of ice were a large 
sunburst for the women and a horseshoe pin for the men. They 
were practically mustsl They didn't mind if the stones were yellow- 
ish, as long as they were large and made a great flash when the 
spotlight hit 'em! Jewelry was considered a good investment: it 
made managers think you were loaded and during the "at liberty" 
periods you could hock 'era! 

The early ranks of variety performers were made tip mostly of 
Irishmen, and there were also a lot of Germans, but* very few 
Hebrews! The performers were mostly out for laughs, before and 
after shows. They kept to themselves because the legits wouldn't 
mix with these crazy troubadours. For many years there was a 
strained feeling between the dramatic actor and the variety actor, 
because the dramatic actor felt he was playing clown when he 
played vaude (they soon got over that when the grouch bags got* 
filled) . The variety actor was always a carefree guy with very little 
dignity. He was a bohemian who liked to mix with fighters, book- 


makers, bartenders, jockeys, gamblers, wine agents, and gals from 
the oldest profession, all of whom, like himself, were looking for 
adventure and laughs. It was the spirit of fun among the variety 
artists and minstrels that started a small group to organize a club 
which they called the "Jolly Corks." It was organized for their own 
fun and entertainment. Soon many more actors joined, and then 
they admitted some laymen, and in a short time it became the 
greatest benevolent organization in the United States. 

They changed the name from the "Jolly Corks" to the "Benevo- 
lent Protective Order of Elks"! 

It was Tony Pastor and Keith and all the "Jolly Corks" who did 
more for vaudeville than anyone in the history of our biz. And so 
you see, Joe, why I don't care what the professors say how it all 
started and how it got its name, it makes interesting reading, but 
to me and Aggie it was these guys that started vaudeville on its 
way to become the nation's number one entertainment for almost 
half a century! 

But let's not forget that the free-and-easies and honky-tonks and 
museums were the incubators of the talents that made vaudeville. 
They didn't have any fancy names like vau-de-vire, but me and 
Aggie figure that variety is what it always was and always will be, 
no matter what fancy names you give it. 

Thought you'd like to read the rules of an old honky-tonk that 
me ancl Aggie saved for just an occasion like this. Here 'tis. 


1 Ladies must be drcssccl and in the boxes by 7:30. 

2 No vulgar language allowed in green room, boxes, or dressing 

3 Ladies and performers must turn down the gas every time they 
leave the dressing rooms. 

4 All lady performers must wear tights, 

5 Ladies are uot allowed to smoke during the show. 

6 Performers are expected to give ancl take one-week notice. 

7 Performers late for an act will surely be fined. 

8 Anyone so under the influence of liquor as to neglect an act 
or turn will surely be fined, 

9 Absence or late for rehearsal without satisfactory excuse will 

Lefty's Letters m 

be fined; 15 minutes' grace allowed; rehearsal call whenever 

10 Performers are required to do as many acts and specialties as 
required by manager. 

11 Ladies must settle up before dressing. 

12 Lists of props for specialties and acts must be handed in at 
first rehearsal. 

13 Ladies are allowed only two packages of cigarettes nightly. 

14 Male performers are not allowed around the bar, in the green 
room, or boxes. 

15 Performers must costume themselves according to the require- 
ments of acts or specialties. 

16 Ladies are not allowed to run each other down to the cus- 
tomers in the boxes. 

17 Performers must keep their dressing rooms in good condition 
and hang up their wardrobe. 

18 Performers are not allowed to guy or laugh in acts or turns. 

19 Performers are obliged to take one business encore. 

20 The above rules and regulations will be strictly enforced. 



Your pal> 


And They Called 'Em Dumb Acts! 

Dear Joe, 

Being a "dumb act" in the days of variety and vaudeville was 
really rough. They were the acts that didn't talk, like acrobats, 
bicycle acts, jugglers, etc. They usually opened or closed a show. 
We used to describe an opening act as "They sec 'cm sitting 
clown/' and a closing act as 'They sec a lot of haircuts/' because 


the opening act would be on when the people were arriving and 
during the closing act the audience would start leaving to avoid 
the crowds. (They later used pics to chase the audience.) 

In Europe the dumb act was respected and was usually a fea- 
tured act and many times a headliner. In America it was many 
years before a dumb act was headlined or featured. Houdini was 
one of the first to be headlined, followed by terrific box-office at- 
tractions like Cinquevalli, May Wirth, Kara, Poodles Hanneford, 
Joe Jackson, and the Rath Brothers. Most of the great dumb acts 
were Europeans, because they had the patience to work for hours r 
weeks, and years to perfect their specialties. The Americans wanted 
to "do it fast." The foreign troupes had apprentices who worked 
for years for just room and board, a few clothes, and maybe a buck 
or two for spending money. The owner of the act would send the 
kid's parents a few bucks a week, which they were glad to get while 
their kid was learning a "profession." 

When vaude took the count, the dumb act was in a better posi- 
tion to adjust itself than any other type act. First, because many 
of them had saved their dough (the majority of them were not 
high-priced acts) and had a trade or a side business; some had 
farms. They realized that a guy depending on eyes, legs, arms, 
muscles, and physical condition couldn't last very long. Being sight 
acts, they didn't have to depend on languages, and so could play 
almost everywhere in the world, in circus or on stage, which talking 
acts couldn't do. Most of the dumb acts came from the circus. 

We have a lot of guys and gals in show biz today that started 
out as a dumb act and have become fine actors and great come- 
dians. Fred Allen started as a juggler, as did Jimmy Savo, whose 
billing was, "Juggles everything from a feather to a piano," And 
another juggler that did O.K. was W. C. Fields. Gary Grant was 
a stilt walker with the Lournns Troupe; Victor McLaglcn, an Oscar 
winner in pics, was an "understiuulcr" in an acrobatic troupe; and 
another fine stage, radio, screen, and TV actor was a top-mounter 
with the famous Dollar Troupe -Conrad Nagcl. Charley Grape- 
win, a vet vaude stage and screen actor, was a parachute jumper in 
a circus. Burt Lancaster, a fine pic star, was part of the acrobatic 
act of Nick Cravat & Burt Lancaster, If you remember seeing a 
couple of acrobats billed as Prcvost & Brown, "Watch the Cork- 
screw Kid/' it was Joe E. Brown who was the Corkscrew Kid. An- 
other one of our famous comic stars who started as an acrobat was 

Lefty's Letters 

Bobby Clark; he and his late partner Paul McCullough started out 
as kids with a circus. There was a kid who started out doing a 
trapeze act with his family's rep show, then became a star in, all 
branches of show biz, the famous "Cap'n Andy" of S/iow Boat, 
Charles Winninger. Joe Cook, the man who made the Four Ila- 
waiians famous, started as a club juggler. Tom Mix, the most 
famous of all the cowboy actors, did a sharpshooting act. Roger 
Imhof (Imhof, Conn & Corinne, whose sketch, "The Pest House/' 
was one of the biggest laugh-getting acts in vaude) was a clown 
with the Miles Orton Circus. 

Gus Sun, who at one time booked more theaters than B. F. 
Keith, was originally a juggler. Another foot juggler by the name 
of Levantine didn't do so bad either. You heard of him as F. F. 
Proctor, the one-time partner of B. F. Keith. George Harnid was 
a tumbler, and a good one, with an Arab troupe, and finished up 
owning the Steel Pier at Atlantic City, also some carnivals and 
circuses. Charles T. Aldrich started as a tramp juggler, then did one 
of the first protean acts, became a fine actor in many Broadway 
shows, and is now living in retirement on his large Lakcwood, New 
Jersey, estate. Guy Weadick (Weadick& LaDuc), who originated 
'The Stampede" act and whose late wife was a champ lady roper, 
is now retired in Arizona. Ernst London (Four Lonclons, a great 
casting act) owns an apartment house in New York. Ben Beyer 
(Ben Beyer & Brother) a pioneer international comedy bicycle act, 
owned a garage and real estate in Miami Beach, Florida, and is 
now retired. McCIellan & Carson started out as a skating act and 
became a fine comedy talking act in big-time vauclc. Stan Stanley 
worked on a trampoline arid became a fine talking comic. Ann 
Codec, originally with her two sisters in an acrobatic act (Three 
Athletas), became a straight woman for her husband, Frank Orth 
(Orth & Codee), and then took over the comedy chores of the act, 
which played all over the world (they did the act in five different 
languages). William & Joe Mandell were just a regular straight 
acrobatic act, but soon became one of the best comedy talking acts 
in vaude. Jack LaVier did a monologue on a trapcxc, Mitchell & 
Durant worked together as a comedy acrobatic act, split after 
twelve years, and Durant became a fine comedy monologist both 
here and abroad, using one-line gags mixed with great falls, 

Knockabout acrobats, bag punching, boxing, wrestling, and walk- 
ing acts were some of the early dumb acts in variety. Club swinging 


was very popular in the early '8os and '905; there were contests all 
over the country. The late Gus Hill, one of the pioneer burlesque 
producers, won the Fox Medal Championship (via Police Gazette). 
He traveled all over the country with his variety and burly shows, 
challenging the local boys to a club-swinging contest. He would 
build these contests up by letting the local boy win and giving him 
a medal (he carried a trunkful), then in a few weeks would play 
a return date to try and win it back (which meant another jammed 
house) , and this time Gus would win; and so he see-sawed through 
the country, changing championships and medals weekly, playing 
to jammed houses. He became a very wealthy man. Club swinging 
was judged by ''free swinging, grace, formation, and smoothness." 
One of the first to swing clubs was Walter Brown, champ oarsman. 
They were then called "Kehoe clubs" because a guy by the name 
of Jim Kehoe made them (which is fair enough) . We always called 
them Indian clubs, and I don't know why. Nellie Clark was the 
first lady club swinger and DeWitt Cook was the first to do a 
juggling act with Indian clubs instead of swinging them! 

Me and Aggie had a lot of friends among the jugglers. We liked 
7 em because many of them had a good sense of humor and anyway 
we figured any guy that wants to be a juggler has something the 
matter with him enough to make him interesting. Among jugglers 
they don't judge each other by the salaries they get. They each 
stand out in their own particular line. We think Cinquevalli (from 
England) was the greatest showman of the juggling fraternity. He 
didn't do hard tricks, but spectacular ones. He was a fine gentleman 
and a great juggler. He was also a fine violinist (never used it on 
the stage, but would play for me and Aggie and the rest of the bill 
after the show). Kara, of course, was the greatest object juggler in 
the world, lie would manipulate more objects of different weights 
than any other juggler. That's a very tough thing to do in juggling. 
Tic missed a lot, but his tricks were so hard you expected him to 
miss. liarrigan, "The Tramp Juggler/' did a tramp comedy juggling 
act long before W, C. Fields (in fact W. C. stole Harrigan's make- 
up and tricks when he first started). Later Harrigan became a fine 
monologist and gave up juggling. W. C, Fields without a doubt 
was the greatest American comedy juggler, even long before he 
started to talk (excuse me, Fred Allen and Jimmy Savo). 

Billy Cromwell was the fastest juggler. He worked without stall- 
ing and hardly made mistakes, The Cromwells did a swell act; Billy 

Lefty's Letters 24 

worked as a "lady" and the other Cromwell was the comic. Salerno 
was a great object juggler. He claimed (I believe) to have origi- 
nated the picture sliding down his forehead (I don't know if it is 
so). But I do know he was great when he threw an envelope in 
the air and as it came down he would cut the edge off with a 
scissors. This later was faked by many jugglers. 

Chinko was one of the first to juggle eight balls, which was a 
record for a time. Then along came Amerous Werner, a German 
who juggled ten, throwing one ball in the air at a time. That caused 
plenty of "AhY ? until the Max Wesseley Troupe came along and 
Max juggled sixteen balls, which is a record that still stands as far 
as I know! The Five Mowatts were really great double-club jugglers, 
as were the Juggling Normans. Some years later came the Three 
Swifts (still going), who were and are as good as or better than 
any club jugglers around. They all worked fast. The passing of 
clubs between two of the boys swiftly while one walks by, just 
missing one of the clubs by a hair, was done many times, but not 
as expertly as by the Three Swifts! 

Friscarry was a terrific hat juggler; he did four hats at one time 
with one hand. I have never seen this trick done since. From Aus- 
tralia some new ideas of club juggling were brought over by the 
Kelso Brothers. Their toes would touch clubs and throw them in 
position for juggling. They later replaced Clark & McCullongh in 
burlesque and did comedy dancing and talking and were very suc- 
cessful. Griff was a very funny British-talking juggler. lie was what 
I would call the Will Rogers of juggling, making sarcastic remarks 
about his juggling and about things in general. lie was assisted 
later by his son George. He also did a bit of ventriloquism with a 
skull which he called Poor Richard. He was made up as a clown 
in white face, and certainly made good in America, 

The Morton & Jewell Troupe were the first jugglers to put .sing- 
ing in their act. Selma Brattz was the greatest of the lady jugglers; 
she did stuff that only men were supposed to do. Anita Battling, 
Maybell Fonda, Elly, the youngest gal juggler, and Racjucl were 
all fine lady jugglers. Charlene & Charlcnc did violin playing with 
juggling and real good fiddlin'. Sylvester Schaffcr was the greatest 
one-man talent (of the dumb acts) that I or anybody ever saw* I Ic 
did juggling, sharpshooting, drawing, animal training, acrobatics, 
magic, wire walking, dancing, whips, roping, and anything you 


could mention and did them all very well. A remarkable man. His 
act ran from one hour to an hour and a half. 

Tom Heara, "The Lazy Juggler/' was a very funny man, as was 
La Dent, who was the first to have a sign on a screen reading 
"Swearing Room," and when he would miss a trick he would go 
behind the screen. (Many copied this bit.) Paul La Croix was the 
greatest with the bouncing hats and Emerson & Baldwin were fine 
club jugglers. Sparrow, 'The Mad Juggler/* caught apples thrown 
at him by the audience on a fork in his mouth. The Zanettos also 
claimed to be originators of this bitanyway, they all finished with 
a rotten apple (planted with a stooge) hitting the comic on the 
head. The Zanettos worked on a battleship, juggling life preservers, 
knives, and catching the turnip (you see, some of them were clever 
enough to switch from apples to turnips). In 1894 the Hoppers 
(tramp act) caught oranges on a fork. So Aggie and me figure they 
were all originals with different fruits. 

There were many claimed to be originators of dancing while 
juggling. H. M. Lorette seems to me to be the first according to 
the records, but there were plenty of good ones, like Alburtus & 
Weston, and Paul Dupont, whom me and Aggie played with on 
the S. & C. Time when he first came over from France, and a few 
more who claim being the first dancing jugglers. It really doesn't 
matter; they all danced while juggling. Among the comedy jugglers 
were Herbert Lloyd, who when he missed a trick said "No good, 
Napoleon," and H. M. Nelson, who kept emptying a small water 
jug throughout his act. Pollard shot pool and scored on rings of 
the portieres; he also had a funny line of talk. Edwin George was 
a very funny man, too, and a good juggler; you must remember him 
trying throughout his act to put a hat on a cane he was balancing 
on his head. Finally, after a lot of misses, he would put the hat on 
the cane and say, "This is the way it looks when it's done!" Billy 
Kincaid, Clever Conkcy, Frank Hartley were all funny men and 
good jugglers. Kashima had pool pockets on his jacket and caught 
the balls in the different pockets. The Glockers juggled water jugs. 
Van Cello and Mary did foot juggling; Mary handed him the stuff 
and looked very pretty, Elverton was a baton spinner* Paul Conchas 
was the greatest of the heavyweight jugglers and had a comedy 
assistant named Ncuman who was just one of the greatest of all 
comedy assistants* 

General Ed Lavine was a great comedy juggler. Bedini & Arthur 

Lefty's Letters 28 

were assisted by Eddie Cantor his first stage job. Christy (Christy 
& Willis) was one of the first talking jugglers. Moran & Weiser I 
thought was one of the funniest and most original of all the hat- 
juggling acts. The Original Barretts (Harry was the original thrower 
of boomerang hats), Johnson, Baker & Johnson, and Johnson & 
Baker were all hat throwers, but I still claim that nobody was fun- 
nier or better than Moran. Les Kiners Moulin balanced musical 
instruments borrowed from the orchestra. Bob Ripa (English) was 
a la Rastalli (from Italy), Serge Flash worked a la Felovis but they 
were all really great acts. Rastalli was in a class with Kara and 
Cinquevalli. Max Cincinnati was considered Europe's greatest 

The Baggesons were a swell comedy act, juggled and broke plates, 
and were the first ones we ever saw do the flypaper bit (while hold- 
ing an armful of plates which his wife throws to him, his other 
hand gets stuck on flypaper, and he tries to get rid of it while hold- 
ing about 100 dishes; well, just imagine)! There was a guy called 
Rebla who had a jerky style of juggling three balls (before W. C. 
Fields). Rich Hayes, who worked for Rebla at one time, was a 
very funny man in his own right and a fine juggler, Robertas & Wil- 
freds introduced returning balls by reverse cnglish, but it was 
originated by Alexander & Evelyn. Selbo was the first to spread 
clubs. Morris Cronin was first to do sliding clubs, George Swift 
was first to kick up clubs with his feet, and Stan Kavauaugh was 
one of the greatest and funniest with the spread clubs. 

While I am telling you about jugglers, I must tell you a true story 
about my favorite show biz clown, Eclclic Carr, of Ccmlin, Slcclc 
& Carr, who also played his own comedy sketch for many years. 
There was a certain (I just won't get sued) Spanish juggler who 
was brought over here by Martin Beck to play the Orphcmn Cir- 
cuit. He landed in New York, was met by the circuit representa- 
tives, and was immediately shipped to Minneapolis where the 
Orpheum tours started. He couldn't speak or understand a word 
of English and was assigned to dress with Ecldic Carr* This juggler 
was the headliner, but because the show was a big one and there 
were very few dressing rooms, he had to share one with Eddie, who 
didn't speak or understand a word of Spanish, but greeted the 
gentleman with the universal language, a bottle of good rye which 
was hidden behind the make-up mirror. As it happened, it was the 
start of a fine friendship, because the juggler liked rye tool Carr 


tried to make him understand with gestures, etc., that they were 
going to be together for fourteen weeks and he would teach him 
English while getting Spanish instruction in return. A few drinks 
and they were buddies! Carr roomed with him, ate with him, and 
was with him every minute, while the rest of the troupe couldn't 
get near him. 

In a week or so the Spaniard would come into the company car 
on getaway day and greet the troupe with, "Goot heeving," or 
"Goot morin," etc. But Carr would take him to their drawing room. 
The man was really a big hit (he was one of the great jugglers of 
our time) . They got to the Orpheum in San Francisco about eight 
weeks later, and I must tell you that Frisco's Orpheum was com- 
parable to the Palace in New York. It had one of the greatest 
subscription lists of any theater in the country; subscriptions were 
handed down in the family, and the audience was not only the 
finest in San Francisco but in America. So on opening day the 
Spaniard was a tremendous hit, and to the surprise of everybody 
on the show, he stopped the music, walked slowly to the footlights, 
and in his best-taught Eddie Carr English, said, "Laddis and gen- 
tlemans, for my next treek I weel juggle billard kue (showing a 
billiard cue), billard bowl (showing billiard ball), and (showing a 
vase) peese pot!" (Remember, this theater wouldn't allow you to 
say cockroach.) There was a moment's silence, and thenoh well, 
just figure it for yourself, 

Martin Beck and Mr. Meyerfield ran backstage in nothing flat 
and canceled the guy immediately by the way, he never did get 
to do the trick; he got scared with the terrific laugh he got. Beck, 
besides canceling him, wanted to punch him in the nose. Backstage 
it was just a young riot the actors and stagehands didn't dare laugh 
(that is, in front of Martin Beck) . Well, it was finally straightened 
out when they found out that Eddie Carr rehearsed the poor guy 
for eight weeks and told him it would be a big "heet"l It was. 
Everybody looked for Eddie, especially the Spaniard with a dag- 
gerl But Edclie, after hearing how his gag got over, went out talking 
to bartenders, Carr got back on the bill when everybody got the 
humor of it (even the Spaniard), and because Eddie's brother-in- 
law happened to be a very powerful manager, Mike Shea of Buffalo! 
And he started doping what else he could do to keep the actors 
laughing. We in vaude called him Feck's Bad Boy . . , a terrific 
guy with a great sense of humor. 

Lefty's Letters & 

Allez OOP! Acrobats and acrobatics started way back when court 
jesters did rollovers and handsprings for kings! They carried on 
through history until variety shows came along; in fact they started 
shows and also closed them even when it was called vaudeville! 
Me and Aggie don't go along with "he's a dumb acrobat" be- 
cause we met plenty of 'em, and they may have been uneducated 
from a schooling standpoint, but me and Aggie would listen to 
many of 'em tell about their travels all over the world through 
many a bottle of beer and it was fascinating listening. Most of 'em 
came from poor families (as most of us did) and were apprentices 
for short dough, and even when they got their own acts continued 
getting short dough because acrobats were a dime a dozen. Euro- 
pean troupes would come over, get a flat and sleep five high, cook 
a stew for the gang and rehearse the rest of the time. But they 
were real nice guys. 

Many acrobats in vaude resent being called acrobats; I don't 
know why, but they like to be classed in their own particular field 
of acrobatics. But to me and Aggie anybody who puts his feet in the 
rosin box (except dancers) is an acrobat and there is certainly noth- 
ing to be ashamed of. There are really many angles of acrobatics: 
tumblers, trapeze, bar acts, trampoline, strong acts, casting acts, 
barrel jumpers, high kickers, leapers, equilibrists, roman rings, stilts, 
ladder acts, flying rings, revolving ladder, perch, rislcy, wall scaling, 
rolling globes, contortionists, wire walkers, bareback riders, etc. I 
can't mention all of these sons and daughters of the rosin box; it- 
would be like calling the roll in the army. So I'll mention just 
a few sort of ad-lib. 

Angelo Armento and his brother, who were Mexicans, were the 
greatest tumblers; Angelo was a lightning tumbler. Henry Roldcn, 
who worked with the Hassel Benali Troupe, was considered the 
greatest Negro acrobat in show biz. Acott & Bailey were also great 
Negro acrobats. They played very little over here, but went to 
Europe, where they were a sensation, and stayed there. Maxell! 
Troupe of ten had a kicl who was the first to do a real triple somer- 
sault he was only fourteen years old and was imported by the 
Barnum & Bailey Circus. Now in 1953 he is working in pics under 
the name of Richard Talmadge (he doubled for years for Fair- 
banks, St.). The Judge Family were one of the first to juggle human 
beings . . . great! Bush Bros, were the funniest of the bounding- 
bed (trampoline) acts; for a finish one of the boys did seventy-five 


somersaults in the bed. The big laugh throughout their act was 
when one kicked the other in the mouth and he kept spitting out 
his teeth (beans). Seymour & Dupree had a great act: O. G. Sey- 
mour would jump over the head of his wife, Katie, then over an 
upright piano. The Seven Bracks were a great risley act. 

Speaking about risley work (that is, juggling people with the 
feet), nobody seems to know how it ever became known as risley 
work. I was sure that it was named after the person who originated 
it it must have been hundreds of years ago maybe even before 
anybody was called Risley. 

Rice & Prevost were the greatest of all American comedy acro- 
bats. Eddie Prevost would fall in the pit. His brother Howard was 
one of the first to develop a double somersault without a spring- 
board. Boganny's Lunatic Bakers jumped in and out of ovens. The 
Three Rianos made up as monkeys and were great. Collins & Hart 
were the burlesque strong men, holding each other up on a finger 
(one of them was on a wire) one of the veteran teams of comedy 
acrobats. Bert Melrose with his falling tables was a riot in vaude 
for many years. In 'The Briants" (Walter and Paul) act "The 
Movers" Walter handled Paul like a dummy until the finish. It was 
one of vaude's big comedy acts. Paul's dummy mask was made by 
Walter, who was a very fine sculptor. La Veen & Cross and Bellclaire 
Bros, were class acrobats. Caron & Herbert originated the diving into 
the backdrop, which would come down and the audience would see 
stage hands playing cards, a gal fixing her stocking, etc., all supposed 
to be a surprise to themand they all acted as if it was an accident. A 
very big laugh and of course many acts copied it. Welsh, Mealy & 
Montrose, comedy acrobats, were real funny. "Scream" Welsh was a 
character; before going on stage he would screw his large diamond 
stud on his underwear so he wouldn't lose it. An Englishman who 
once dressed with him, when asked back in London what he 
thought of the American acrobats, said, "They wear the dirtiest 
underwear and the largest diamonds I have ever seen/' 

Marceline, the famous clown, and "Slivers" Oakley, another 
famous clown (both committed suicide because they couldn't get 
work) were really tops, Toto, who made his entrance on the stage in 
a toy auto with his clog Whisky- the car was so tiny you wouldn't 
think you could get a clog in y much less a man was a standard 
vaude act for years until he went blind. Luke Wilson did a bar act 
at the age of seventy-two; he was originally with the "Span of 

Lefty's Letters 30 

Life" (they were on a wire), where three men made a chain to 
rescue a gal from a roof fifteen feet away. Alex Patti & Brother 
created a sensation when Alex went down a long flight of steps on 
his head. One night at Joel's Restaurant Tom McNamarra, the 
cartoonist, ribbed him that it was a fake, and that he had the stairs 
or his head padded. After a few drinks Alex got so angry he said, 
4i l will show it is not a fake." He went to the top of the iron steps 
in Joel's and came down on his head step by step. There was no 
damage to the steps or his head. The Gee-Jays were a standard 
acrobat act. The Three Keatons, Joe, Myra, and Buster, were one 
of the real great knockabout acrobatic acts. Buster became a big 
star in pics and is still going great on TV. And of course George & 
Dick Rath, billed as the Rath Brothers, held a feature spot in the 
Ziegfeld Follies and became a headline act in vaude. They were 
swell-built guys and did slow lifts (many others did this type 
work, but they didn't have the class or showmanship of the Rath 

The tops of the wire acts were the Carmen Troupe, who were 
first to use five people on a tight wire, and the Youngnian Family, 
who were the first to do a back somersault with umbrellas on a 
tight wire. Cadieux (from Pawtucket, Rhode Island) was just great 
doing a bounding-wire act. Juan Caiccdo was the best bounding- 
wire act from Spain. Kartella (his right name was Julian St. George) 
was in the opinion of wire walkers without a doubt the greatest 
slack-wire act in the world. He did what they called impossible 
tricks, like doing a handstand on the seat of a unicyclc on a slack 
wire and standing on a kitchen chair bouncing four balls while 
balancing on wire, and for a finish stood on his head on wire play- 
ing a clarinet. Could you ask for anything more? The Eddy Family, 
swell. Don & Lora Valadon were tight- and slack-wire cyclists, Lora 
did her famous "slide for life" from the balcony to the stage, and 
was billed as "Mile-a-Minute" Lora. A fine artist. And of cotusc 
the one and only Bird Millman was the tops of 'em alll 

Among the comedy bicycle acts me and Aggie liked Charles 
Ahearn & Co. and Ben Beyer & Brother, who in 19 js booked them-* 
selves for a month's stay at the Scala in Berlin for 1936* They 
figured by that time the Hitler regime would be defunct (PJS,: 
They didn't play it.) Ralph Johnstone originated the trick of jump- 
ing his wheel up and down stairs, gripping the saddle with his 
thighs and not as many supposed, holding on the handle bars; he 


also turned a somersault with a wheel. He became one of the 
pioneer stunt pilots of an airplane and gave me and Aggie our first 
trip in a plane. We had to have our hearts examined before we 
went up; after he gave us a few thrills in the air is the time they 
should have examined our hearts. Poor Ralph died when his wing 
broke off 400 feet in the air. A great guy and a pioneer in trick 
bicycling and airplanes. There were the Original Six Kaufmans; 
Cycling McNutts; Hill & Sylvany (unicycles); Calotta, who looped 
the loop; Fred St. Onge & Co., who used all kinds of wheels and 
were pioneers in bicycling acts; the Brothers Soncrant, who rode 
buggy wheels; the Royal Polo Team, who played polo on wheels; 
the Cycling Brunettes, La Salbini, who juggled while dressed in 
skin tights riding a wheel she was a beautiful gal with a beautiful 
form, so who cared if she juggled or not? 

And the greatest comedy act on or off a bicycle was the panto- 
mimist Joe Jackson. When he first showed his act at a theater out 
of town, the manager sent in a report to the booking office: "A 
funny act, but he can't ride a bicycle." The funny part of it was 
that Joe was once a racing rider. Joe Jackson died after taking his 
bows at the Roxy Theater, He died a hit, like he always was. His 
son is now doing his act, and doing it very well, but there was 
only one Joe Jackson! 

There were many great aerial acts, but there are a few that were 
great in vaudeville: Aerial Budcls, Lohse & Sterling, Six Flying 
Vanvards, Break-a-way Barlows, Alciclc Capitaine, who was known 
as "the perfect woman and aerial queen/ 7 Flying Martins, Dainty 
Marie, who clicl a strip tease on rope and flying rings, Harry Thriller, 
who balanced on a chair and broom handle on, the trapeze, the 
Jungrnan Family, and of course C-II-A^M-I-O-N, who was a head- 
liner, and Lillian Lcfeel, who was the greatest; she did forty revo- 
lutions by one hand. She met an untimely death when she fell 
while performing in Copenhagen, A wonderful artist. 

The casting acts were always thrilling to watch. They had two 
uprights set about 20 feet apart, one man on each cradle. They'd 
throw humans from one to another, some doing single and most 
always finishing with a triple somersault (worked with a net). Some 
worked without a net until the law was passed compelling nets to 
be used. Some of the real greats in this line were the Four Lukens, 
the Casting Dunbars, the Four Londons, the Duffin-Redcay 
Troupe, and the Four Readings. 

Lefty's Letters 3a 

The horizontal bar acts, straight and comedy, were always good 
for a laugh and a thrill. There were a lot of them in the early days 
of variety, but then they seemed to die out except in circuses. But 
a few came back on TV and were a real novelty. Newell & Shevett 
did the longest twisting somersault ever done, Graggar Bros, did 
great falls, LaMoyne Bros, did a swell triple-bar act, as did the 
Camille Trio. The Artoise Bros, were the only ones doing triple 
over bars. Mason & Bart and Rice, Scully & Scott also did great 
comedy bar acts. 

Skating, both roller and ice, was very well represented in vaude- 
ville by Earl Reynolds & Nellie Donegan, who were a stand-by in 
vaude for many years. (Earl Reynolds is now a state senator in 
Indiana.) There were Steel & Winslow, Van Horn & Inez, Sprague 
& McNeese, Coogan & Bancroft, Beeman & Anderson (one of the 
best), Athos & Reeves (Percy Athos is now a producer in London) 
El Rey Sisters, Roy Harrah (great), the Nathano Bros., and Paul 
Garret. Did you know that Jim Barton, the great comedian, started 
in show biz as a skater? (Barry & Barton.) Sanely Lang (now a 
wealthy toy manufacturer in Chicago) and his girls were a standard 
act for many years on the Big Time. The Sakatells and Anderson & 
Revell were great names on the marquee. 

But all the old-timers agree that the Three Whirlwinds tliree 
Chicago kids, Frank Weisner, a truck driver (still around) and 
Harry Avers and Buddy Carr, truck mechanics -who wore rink- 
skating white pants and shirts and used a handmade mat, were the 
tops. They came to the theater without music and just said to 
the leader, "play anything you can play fastest." They had no 
technique, and without regard to life and limb this amassing trio 
miraculously slam-banged their way to the Palace, New York, in 
the first six months of their try-in in show bias. They made the 
Earl Carroll Vanities by the end of the year, then the Strand Roof 
with top billing and several command performances in Europe, 
and oblivion in three short years! You just know they must have 
been great to have accomplished all this, Buddy Carr, now fat and 
forty, a bartender, sez, 'The thing I know less about is skating/' 

Roller skating was one of the real big crazes that hurt show bisr, 
for a time. There were thousands of large arenas, especially iu the 
West and Southwest, and one of the largest skating rinks for 
Negroes only at Fort Worth, Texas. In 1907 there was an ice skater 
named Roamin; he would freeze water and skate on a block of ice 


5 feet square; he said he had a secret that would revolutionize the 
artificial ice business. Don't know what ever became of him. 

There were hoop rollers, who were always entertaining and in- 
teresting. Everhart was called the "Christopher Columbus of 
Hoops"; Ollie Young and April were one of the best acts, as were 
J. Francis Wood and the Nicholas Nelson Troupe. The Kratons 
(Negroes) had the finest novelty hoop act. It was a "Hoop Village" 
with a "drunken hoop." Colored hoops denoted different char- 
acters, all woven into a story. The drunken hoop was a scream. 
Eugene Adams was the greatest of his time, in this line. 

Variety and later vaudeville was just packed with bag punchers, 
as bag punching was being taken up by many people for home 
exercise. The Seebacks were the champs and winners of the Fox 
Medal, and they were a standard big-time act for many years. 

Strong-man acts were liked mostly by women, who admired the 
physique and the strength of the strong men, but the men in the 
audience (especially the tiny skinny guys) resented them and felt 
like they were being shown up. The greatest of the strong men and 
who received the most publicity was Sandow, who was managed by 
Flo Ziegfeld, later the famous Ziegfeld of the Follies. But there 
were many strong-men (and women) acts who made the tour of 
the big- and small-time circuits year after year. Martha Farra, a 
little i2opound woman, held an auto with twelve men in it while 
lying on her back on a board of nails. Alba was another strong 
woman. Apollo lifted a half a dozen men on a piano. Bertish had 
a zjopound cannon ball fall on his body. Wilfred Cabana lifted 
an auto, while Fred Carrol (Englishman) bit spikes in half. The 
Francclias were a man-and-woman act. He would hold her by the 
hair with his teeth while he did a cakewalk, Ben Meyer lifted a 
man with his teeth and walked up a tall ladder. Joe Bonomo did a 
strong act in vaudeville before he worked in pictures. Orville Stamm 
was a small man but did a fine strong act. Strong-man acts were 
booked because they could put on a good publicity stunt in front 
of the theater, usually with two teams of horses (or autos) trying 
to pull the strong man apart. The horses would actually pull against 
each other (via a gimmick). The strong men all did mostly the 
same routines, driving big spikes through a plank with their hands, 
bending iron bars, biting spikes, and lifting many people and 

Me and Aggie were on our way to play a date in Allentown, 

Lefty's Letters 34 

Pennsylvania, in a day coach and had trouble trying to open the 
car window. A big handsome guy (with a thick German accent) 
offered to help us. He struggled with it for ten minutes and couldn't 
budge it. The trainman came along and raised the window in a 
few seconds. When we got to the theater all the acts were on stage 
for music rehearsal and to our surprise there was the big German. 
When he saw us he quickly came over and said, "Blease dunt say 
nodding about de vindow on de train. I am de strong man on de 
bill here." 

Boomerang throwing was a novelty for a while in vaude. Van & 
Belle were pioneers of the boomerang acts, and Rawson & June 
threw boomerangs and javelins. Many of them did other things 
besides boomerang throwing, as the one thing became very monot- 
onous. The Australian Waites also did whip cracking, and the 
Three Scotch McGradys threw booms and also did arrow shooting 
and acrobatics. 

Tank acts (swimming and diving) were a great attraction in the 
old museum days and later played variety and vaucle houses. One of 
the first was Enoch, 'The Man Fish" who while in a tank of water 
placed a pail over his head and sang, also played trombone under 
water. Some ate bananas, etc. But it was Annette Kcllcrman who 
really started the "water nymph" and diving acts. She was the 
first to wear a one-piece bathing suit, which caused a sensation and 
received plenty of publicity. She had a beautiful figure and when 
the water hit that tight-fitting black suit . . . B-R-O-T-H-K-R! She 
was a great box-office attraction for many years. When Kcil'h stole 
her from William Morris (who discovered her), Morris engaged 
Rose Pitnof, a fifteen-year-old girl who swam from Charleston 
Bridge to Boston Light and was a local sensation, but as you know 
it takes more than fifteen years to develop a figure like Kcllcrman's, 
and Rose couldn't combat Kellerman at the box office. Another big 
attraction was Odiva and her seals. She swam in a tank with a seal 
and duplicated all of the seal's swimming tricks. You could easily 
tell Odiva from the seal, for she wore a one-piece bathing suit over 
a swell figure. 

There were many diving acts swimming into vaudeville once 
Annette Kellerman broke the dam: Maude & Gladys Finney, the 
Six Water Lillies, Lottie Mayer. The Berlo Sisters had a fine act; 
at the finish their mother (real mother), about sixty, got up on 
stage from the audience to save her daughters, and yep, yott 


guessed it fell in the tank fully clothed. (A big laugh, of course.) 
Gertrude Hoffman in her big act of imitations did a burlesque of 
Kellerman and finally dived in the tank on a wire. 

One of the oddest tank acts was Sam Mahoney, an Arctic 
swimmer. He swam in a tank of ice, and for a finish he would sit 
on a cake of ice and tell the audience about the beauty of physical 
culture and deep breathing, etc. I forget the rest of his act, be- 
cause by that time Aggie had my "longies" ready. Tank acts were 
expensive, as a crew had to go a week ahead to put up the tank. 
We played with many of them where the tank leaked and the 
dressing rooms in the basement were flooded. That's how we 
learned that Ivory Soap floats but Stein's make-up doesn't'. 

Sharpshooters were always an attraction in vaude, especially after 
a war. Stage sharpshooters never place a human life in jeopardy, so 
when you see the marksman shoot a ball from off the head, etc., it 
is really an optical illusion, because the ball is actually placed from 
a foot to a foot and a half above the head, but to the back of the 
subject, giving the audience an upward range of vision. And sharp- 
shooters use what they call splash bullets that spread, and so it 
isn't very hard to hit the resin balls and pipes, etc. When they 
shoot at objects held by humans, they use a specially prepared 
bullet that can't inflict an injury. But still they have to be excellent 
marksmen. Pauline Cook & May Clinton were among the first 
women sharpshooting acts; they played musical instruments by 
shooting at the keys. Benny Franklin was the youngest. Others 
were General Pisano, the Randalls, Corrigan & Vivian, Chevalier 
dc Louis, Cook & Madison (who did a comedy sharpshooting act) . 
In the Two Vivians' act, he shot an apple off his partner's head, 
and Miss Vivian played the chimes by shooting from the balcony. 
Henry & Alice Taylor shot through a tube and also at swinging 
targets. The lolccn Sisters did sharpshooting while swinging on a 
wire, as did Kit Carson, The Dcda Veils had a French gal that was 
really great. Jack Texas Sullivan did gun fanning old Western 
stuff where they filed off the triggers and pushed back the hammers 
with their thumbs, in that way being able to fire quicker than by 
using a trigger. That was O.K. on the old guns, but today the 
trigger works faster than any gun fanner can do it. St. Ferdinan 
Thetron used revolvers instead of rifles and was real great. Due to 
an aceident where an empty shell hit a lady in the eye as it jumped 

Lefty's Letters 3S 

from the gun, many managers barred sharpshooting acts for a 
long time. 

I must tell you the story about a certain Frenchman (again I 
refuse to be sued, so I won't mention his name) who did a great 
sharpshooting act. He didn't understand or speak much English, 
but a performer on the bill (at the old Hippodrome) told him he 
should explain his opening trick to the audience, which was shoot- 
ing off his wife's wrap as she stood on a raised platform, and when 
he shot off what looked like the buttons of her wrap she was re- 
vealed in tights and really looked beautiful. The "buttons' 7 on the 
wrap were really tiny white rubber balls with black dots painted on 
them which made them look like large buttons from the front of 
the house. You can imagine the surprise of everybody, stagehands, 
actors, musicians, management, and audience, whqi this French- 
man, who had been doing his act without a word for two weeks, 
stepped down to the footlights one matinee, stopped the music, 
and in broken English said, "Laddies & Gentlemens, I wecl now 
proceed tu shoot the balls off my wife!" When they explained to 
him what he had said, he took all his guns and went hunting for 
the actor who taught him the speech. He never found him I 

There were roping and whip acts, strictly Western stuff. Clinton 
& Beatrice, "Chuck" Haas, the Chamberlains (who did lasso and 
whips), Fred Lindsay, and the Shephards were great whip manipu- 
lators; Jack & Violet Kelly also did a good whip act. Shield & Rogers 
(one Indian and one cowboy) did roping; La Due, Guy Weadick's 
wife, was a champ roper. Then there was a guy by the name of 
Will Rogers, who started with a rope, a horse, and an assistant, 
then started doing a single and became the greatest monologist of 
topical topics of our time. But he was really a great roper too and 
never gave it up. 

There were hundreds of contortionists during the heyday of 
variety, usually coming from the circuses and museums. Among 
the best was Zeeda, billed as "The Snake Man" (Zcech & Hoot, 
known before as Dilla & Templeton). Mercer Tcmplctou and his 
brother Jimmy (Templeton Bros.) became great contortion and 
straight dancers. There were Byers & Herman, Herman & Shirley 
(Herman was the "Dancing Skeleton"), Ben Dova (still doing great 
on TV), the Le Grohs, Demonio & Bell, and Yuma. 

Years ago Yuma couldn't get in to sec J. J, Murdock (then the 
manager of the Masonic Temple in Chicago) for bookings. He had 


himself packed in a small box and delivered to Mr, Murdock's 
office. When J. }. opened the box, Yuma came out dressed as a 
devil. Murdock was scared into booking Yuma for a week at the 
Temple. H. B. Marinelli, one of the top European and American 
booking agents, started in show biz as "The Boneless Wonder." 
And did you know that the great Houdini started as a contortionist 
and trapeze artist in Appleton, Wisconsin? The first contortion- 
ist on program records was Walter Wentworth, who started back 
bending in 1872. (You know there were front benders and back 
benders and just a few that could do both.) Of course the man 
that outlasted all the old-time contortionists was the late Ferry, 
"The Frog Man," who worked at the age of eighty. 

I must put posing acts among the dumb acts, because for a long 
time they were part of variety bills. It was way back in 1875 that 
the manager of the Comique, New York, was in trouble with his 
posing groups. Judged to be unchaste by the puritan minds yelling 
about the female form in skin-fitting silken tights, some managers 
threw a cloak over the gals. At the Comique, "The Rock of Ages" 
tableaux was posed by young beauties in fleshings, and this scandal- 
ized people. The Clipper wrote: 

"Matt Morgan's statuary 
Think our police a bore 
Which makes each statue wary 
To wear a little more." 

These, of course, were almost all gone and transferred to bur- 
lesque when vaudeville took over for real. Instead of the old-time 
tableaux with no beauty, there came to vaudeville some really 
beautiful posing acts. William Edirette with horse and dog was 
billed as "The Act Beautiful," and it was. Also Andree's Studies 
(in china and ivory), Brenck's Bronze Horse, Neptune's Garden, 
Maxim's Models, Frank Stafford & Dog (a beautiful act; Frank 
did some fine whistling too), Weston's Models, Marble's Gems, 
the Five Golden Graces, who posed with golden tint on their 
bodies, the Frey Trio, in wrestling poses. Maude O'Dell, in 1908, 
was the first strip teaser, posing instead of dancing, or I should 
say walking, in time to the music; she would pose, and after each 
pose she would wear less clothes, and didn't start with much. It 
got pretty bad and the police made her put on more clothes. Three 
Seldon's Living Pictures, Seldon's Venus, and in igo6 Hathaway 's 

Lefty's Letters 38 

Indian Tableaux, "Love and Revenge of American Indians/' and 
a few more were really artistic and brought novelty to vaude bills. 
There were a few gals who posed in the nude, but were painted 
with gold leaf . , . and on them it looked good! 

I almost forgot to mention a guy who started in show biz as a 
dumb act and hit the jack pot of international fame and fortune- 
Charlie Chaplin. 

And they called 'em "dumb acts"-Ha ha, SEZ 

Your pal 7 



Dear Joe, 

The song-and-dance men have always been the life blood of 
vaude. In the early clays of variety they were the top guys, but 
later on they were looked upon like a "club fighter'* in the fight 
racket. They had a half a dozen on every bill. IV) hear a legit or 
"talking" act say the word "hoofer" was the new low in sneers! 
But to me and Aggie (who started as hoofers), they always repre- 
sented real vaude more than any other kind of an act. They had 
a certain fire and ambition through the years that no other kind of 
performers ever had. They took the racket seriously and were always 
talking about their act. They'd get up in the middle of a meal in 
any restaurant and show you a step they'd "originated"; they'd 
show you a new,(?) step in front of the Palace, New York, or the 
Palace in Keokuk. 

An honest-to-God hoofer really believed that his act meant more 
on the bill than the headliners! If it didn't get over, he had a 
million alibis. "The music was bad" was sure-fire ? and there were 
many more, like "Our spot was bad/' "My partner is lousy/* "There 
was no rosin box/' "We were breaking in new shoes/' "I just got 
over 'newmonyeh' and I couldn't get my breath/* "We didn't have 


our new threads (suits) on/' or ''We were working in new suits 
and it boddered us." Mostly it was the music that got the blame, 
and as an ex-hoofer I'll say they were right 95 per cent of the time. 

Me and Aggie in all our years of show biz hardly ever saw a 
dancing act (even if it was a hit) that didn't come off fighting. 
We've seen 'em hit each other with wooden shoes, yell, scream, 
faint, and go through the regular temperamental routines of hoof- 
ers; but there was one team of dancers (and good ones too) with 
whom we played for many years and never saw them do anything 
but kiss each other when they came off stage. They were the Glid- 
ing O'Mearas, two swell micks that came from Double-Fifth (that's 
Tenth Avenue), and little Timmy, who didn't weigh no pounds 
with anchors in his hands, would punch Joe Louis in the nose if 
he thought he had a beef. I don't know what he did to his sweet 
wife when he got her in the dressing room, but when a couple of 
micks (especially hoofers) can control themselves like they did 
through the years of hoofing, me and Aggie sez, "More power to 
y em." 

Now I don't say the other hoofing acts were wrong when they 
went through their temperamental routines, because me and Aggie 
know what it is to have your music loused up and the audience 
helping it along by no clapping, and you're sweating and outta 
breath and oh, hoofers have a million legit excuses! As I said, me 
and Aggie were hoofers once, but I left no marks on her my Aggie 
is a quick healer! All I can say is that hoofers are honest-to-God 
children of vaudeville and they're awful nice people when they're 
not dancingl 

Many of the low-down hoofers reached the heights, I say 
"hoofers" for anybody that ever dipped his feet in a rosin box and 
gave the tempo to the orchestra leader by stomping before he made 
his entrance. I don't care if they wore ballet skirts or wooden shoes, 
they were all hoofers! There were a lot of different style dancers. 
Clog, pedestal, sand, soft-shoe, buck and wing, acrobatic, skirt, 
rough-house, neat song-and-dance, legomania, eccentric, rough 
wooden-shoe, cane, rope-skipping, chair, roller- and ice-skating, 
cooch, Hawaiian, ballet, toe, Russian, Salom6, Scotch, apache, ball- 
room, Texas Tommy, grizzly bear, turkey trot, Cakewalk, shimmy 
and jazz, tap, Charleston, black bottom, low-down, varsity drag, 
sugar-foot strut, adagio, big apple (also little pear and little peach), 
Lambeth walk, and so many many more. I just wanted to let you 

Lefty's Letters 40 

know the terrific competition in the dance line. I didn't mention 
bubble, dove, or strip-tease dancing, because they never belonged 
or ever got in vaudeville, thank God! 

Vaude had many crazes, but there were more dance crazes than 
any of the others. In 1890 Carmencita appeared at Koster and 
Dial's. She did the fandango, a sort of a waltz done with castanets, 
which had steps like the tango but was not done to the same tempo. 
The comics of the day burlesqued this dance, as they did all others. 
The Spanish craze lasted for a couple of years. Before, most danc- 
ing had been done in ballet costumes with short skirts, which were 
lengthened to the ankles when the "skirt dance" came in. 

After about three years of seeing medium and ankle-length cos- 
tumes, the customers got to longing for a peep at the undraped 
figure, so when Loie Fuller, dressed in a full-length transparent 
skirt 7 came into the spotlight with her "serpentine" dance, Miss 
Fuller and the dance jumped into favor. Closely following the 
serpentine came the "fire dance," with cheap electrical effects. 
The "butterfly" and other variations of the serpentine and fire 
dances were also popular, In these dances all the gals did was prac- 
tically pose in transparent gowns and a guy from the orchestra pit- 
would throw different colored slides on them, like fire effect, butter- 
flies, etc. The gal had two long sticks to which the bottom of the 
gown was attached, and she would wave the sticks while the slides 
were thrown on the gown and it would make a pretty effect, but 
you saw nothing! It really wasn't even a dance! 

High kicking was the next craze. Evelyn Law and Charlotte 
Greenwood were great in this line. With the high kicks came the 
splits and different forms of Icgomania that lasted for about four 
years,, and then gradually settled clown to a standard form of 
vaudeville dancing. 

One of the biggest crazes in dancing was the hootchy-kootehy. 
It was first introduced by Little Egypt at the Chicago World's Fair 
of 1893 as a specialty in the Nautch Village, Aycslia brought the 
"dances du venture" to vaude and burlesque. In 1894 at Coney 
Island, New York, there were fifteen to twenty "cooch shows" run- 
ning full blast, each claiming to have the original Fatima, another 
sensational dancer of the Fair. One of these dancers later became 
a vaude headlincr as "Rajah" (she danced holding a chair in her 
teeth at Huber's Museum, when Willie Hammcrstcin discovered 
her there and booked her, which started her on a big-time career) , 


Little Egypt was engaged to entertain at the Seeley dinner given in 
honor of Herbert Seeley, a nephew of P. T. Barnum. Someone 
blew the whistle to Captain Chapman (known as the Czar of the 
Tenderloin in the '905), and just as Little Egypt was ready to pull 
off a few nifty wriggles, Chapman with a flock of bulls broke in and 
pinched everybody. The raid was front-paged and Weber & Fields 
put on a burlesque of it in their show. This put the cooch on the 
map. Although it didn't get much headway in vaude, it found 
plenty of ground to work on in burly. They called it the "Oriental 
Fantasy" and "Egyptian Serpentine" and other fancy names, but 
it was still the cooch! (It was many years later when they added 
the grind and bumps to it ... anything to further ari\ ) 

In 1908 the phoniest craze to hit vaude was the "Salom< dance." 
This came to vaude via grand opera. Oscar Hammerstein produced 
it for a single performance at his Manhattan Opera House. One 
after another the single women of vaude started to do the Salom6 
dance. Gertrude Hoffman was the first in America. Willie Ham- 
merstein sent her over to London to see Maude Allen do it there 
and she came back and did an imitation which was a sensation. 
(Ruth St. Denis claims she did the dance in Paris in 1906 which 
no doubt is true, but she didn't get the publicity.) Gertrude Hoff- 
man stayed at Hammerstein's for many weeks and then went on 
the road, managed by Morris Gest, who started as a ticket specu- 
lator at Hammerstein's, then became press agent and scout for 
Willie, and later became one of Broadway's most famous producers 
(Miracle, etc.) . It was Eva Tanguay who really busted things wide 
open for Salom6 dancers, when she discarded all seven veils. Ada 
Ovcrton Walker, wife of George Walker of Williams & Walker 
and a great dancer, put it on with Creatore's Band, which added a 
string section to play for her. Malcolm Scott, an English female 
impersonator, did a burly Salom6 around empty whisky bottles. 
Lind? r another female impersonator, had an act called "Who Is It?" 
He did a Salom6 and never took his wig off at the finish. The 
Marco Twins (a tall and a short fellow) also did a funny burly on 
it, as did hundreds of other comics. Julian Eltinge, the greatest 
of all female impersonators, did a beautiful version of Salom6. 

In Pittsburg there were prayers said by the community for the 
saving of the soul of Miss Deyo of the Weber & Fields Co., which 
was playing there at the time. Mile. Froelich was hooted off a 
Yonkers stage with her Salomd Velaska Suratt did a mild version. 

Lefty's Letters 42 

Vera Alcore performed it at Huber's Museum, while Lotta Faust 
danced it in The Girl Behind the Counter, Managers in Ohio, 
West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky banned the dance. The 
Orpheum Circuit barred it from their bills. While all the Salomds 
wore veils, showed figures in gauze skirts, and danced in bare feet, 
La Sylph, a contortion dancer who did the nearest thing to the real 
dance, wore fleshings to the neck! The craze lasted for about five 
years and gradually died out, not only because of the ravings of 
the reform elements but because it was overdone and was no longer 
bringing returns at the box office! 

In 1915 ragtime was the rage and all the shoulder-shaking, wrig- 
gling, and finger-snapping epidemics, such as the grizzly bear, 
bunny hug, Texas Tommy, and various "trots," arrived in vaucle 
by the carload. Craze after craze came along and was taken up and 
then forgotten, then after a decade or so revived. (They're sneak- 
ing in the Charleston on TV right now.) Ballroom dancing went 
over big, with the Castle walk, rnaxixe, fox trot, one-step, and 
turkey trot. These made way for the shimmy. Bcc Palmer & May 
Gray (later known as Gilda Gray), who were introduced to New 
York by Sophie Tucker, were the greatest exponents of the quiver 
shoulders. Ballin 7 the jack, toodle-oo, Charleston, black bottom, 
and jitterbug were all crazes, as well as control, acrobatic, adagio, 
apache, Hawaiian, ballet, and tap dancing. It was a long cry from 
the essence, sand jig, clog, buck and wing, sailor's hornpipe, soft- 
shoe, Irish jig, Highland fling, pedestal clog, and the Cakewalk. 
But a new set of feet were doing them. 

The cakewalk was really one of the great dance crazes, not only 
on stage but off stage as well. It was originally known as the "chalk- 
line walk," danced by Negroes with pails of water on their heads. 
The couple who spilled the least water were declared the winners. 
It later was called the "prize walk/' then the "cakewalk wedding/' 
which showed all stages of meeting, flirtation, courtship, engage- 
ment, wedding, ancl off on the honeymoon. There were hundreds 
of Cakewalk contests throughout the country, Johnson & Dean, a 
Negro team, were the first to really do the professional stage cake- 
walk. Some years later Genaro & Bailey were its foremost white 
exponents. The craze lasted for many years and even today we are 
often reminded of it in pictures and TV. 

In the early 19005 the old shuffle dance entirely disappeared; 
soft-shoe, too. People thought wooden-shoe dancing was harder 


(it isn't). There were very few makers of wooden shoes in 1900, 
and by 1907 there were dozens of firms specializing in them, so 
you can imagine what a hold wooden-shoe dancing had on the 
public. Buck dancing was also popular; contests were held and 
championship medals were given out by owners of the Police 
Gazette; they were known as Fox Medals after the owner of the 

Some of the best hoofers within the memory of the boys and 
girls who played hookey years ago and brought their schoolbooks 
to their home-town vaude houses were Ben Ryan & George White. 
Ryan teamed with Harriet Lee and became one of the great mixed 
comedy teams, and White became the producer of the White 
Scandals. Milt Wood danced while seated on a chair. One of the 
best acrobatic wooden-shoe dancing acts was Emma Francis and 
her Arabs. Bissett & "Hello George" Scott carried a little fox 
terrier around with him that had a diamond tooth. He claimed it 
was better bait to get gals than etchings. He later had a diamond 
tooth in his own set (in case he didn't have the dog with him). The 
Buttons, a Negro dancing act, would shout to the audience after 
each step, "How's that?" Rose & Moon would dance back to back; 
Dick Henry & Carrie Adelaide would change clothes on stage while 
dancing. Purcella Bros, dressed like convicts with their legs fastened 
together with a ball and chain. Clara Morton danced while play- 
ing piano; Robert Stickney danced on stilts. When Sammy White 
& Lou Clayton split, Sammy teamed up with Eva Puck and Lou 
joined Jackson and Durante. There were the Three Du For Bros., 
the Three Hickey Bros., and Cook & Sylvia (Phil Cook was the 
holder of a Fox Medal and was one of the greatest of the wooden- 
shoe dancers). Others that held Fox Medals were Ida May Chad- 
wick, Maude Kramer, and Lulu Becson, all champ clog dancers. 

The Four Fords were the greatest dancing family. Dotson, a 
Negro, was a fine dancer. Pat Rooncy & Marion Bent were the 
king and queen of waltz clog, Sammy Lee (now a Hollywood dance 
producer) and Harry Evans had an act Called 'Trip Around the 
World" and did the dances of the different countries. Lou Lockett 
& Jack Waklron, Boyle & Brazil (Boyle was one of the best all- 
round dancers), the Six American Dancers, with the Lovenbcrg 
Sisters, Charles O'Connor, Pearl Davenport, and Purcella & Orbin, 
were all great hoofers. Among the brother dancing teams there 
were the Field Bros*, Gaits Bros,, Foley Bros,, Ward Bros, (hold- 

Lefty's Letters 44 

ers of the Fox Medal), King, King & King, Three Slate Bros., Four 
Small Bros., Ritz Bros., Condos Bros., all great. 

When you think of stair dancing, you naturally think of the late 
and great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. But there were a number of 
stair dancers before Bill. There were Al Leach (& His Rosebuds) 
who did the first stair dance, the Whitney Bros., who did a musical 
stair dance at Hyde and Behman's in 1899, and Mack & Williams, 
who did a single, double, and triple stair dance in 1915; Paul 
Morton and his lovely wife Naomi Glass also did a stair dance. 
But it took Bill Robinson's great showmanship and personality to 
make the stair dance his trade-mark and to make him one of the 
most popular dance artists on the American stage. It all came about 
by accident, like most successes. Bill started with his partner in 
vaude (Cooper & Robinson), then did a single, and was estab- 
lished as a single singer and dancer with a few gags thrown in when 
he played the Palace. At the Palace there are four steps on each 
side of the stage for the use of an actor when he has to go down 
to the audience or for a committee who are asked to come up on 
the stage. One matinee Bill came down to the audience to greet 
some friends (ad lib), and when he came back to the stage he 
ad-libbed a dance up the steps, which got a big laugh and plenty 
applause. Need I tell you more? A great showman like Bill "kept 
it in" the rest of the week. But all the theaters didn't have those 
steps, so Bill had his famous staircase built and made dancing 
history with something that had been done many years before him, 
but it was his great dancing and his great showmanship that put it 
over and made him a headlined 

The ballroom dancers started clogging up the vaucle stages about 
1915, and it brought hundreds of hicks in evening clothes to vaucle, 
Maurice & Florence Walton were not only one of the pioneer acts 
but also one of the great teams of ballroom dancers. Irene and 
Vernon Castle (the Castles) were the darlings of dance-inad Amer- 
ica. They set the style in ballroom dancing, women copied Irene's 
hair cut (she was the first to wear a bob), they copied her clothes, 
and they tried very hard to dance like her. In 1914 they were at 
the top of their career. On a week of one-night stands they brought 
in $31,000 (a lot of loot those days, especially for a dance team), 
The war, not a decline in their popularity, brought to a close the 
Castle legend. Vernon went to England to join the Royal Flying 
Corps as a second lieutenant, won a captaincy by shooting clown 


two German planes, was sent back to Canada to train pilots, and 
when we got in the war he went to Texas to teach our boys. He was 
killed in a flying accident while there. Some years later Irene tried 
to do an act with other partners, but it just wasn't the Castles! 

It would be impossible to mention all the ballroom dancers, be- 
cause everybody who had or could borrow a full-dress suit became 
one! But there were a number that were real tops and remained 
in vaude long after the craze. Evelyn Nesbit and Jack Clifford, who 
really started out as a "freak act" via the great publicity Evelyn 
received in the Thaw case, became not only a good box-office at- 
traction but a very good dancing act. Others were Martin Brown 
and Rozicka Dolly, Hale & Patterson, Joan Sawyer & John Jarrott, 
Carl Hyson & Dorothy Dickson, Carlos Sebastian & Dorothy 
Bentley, Mae Murray & Clifton Webb, Fanchon & Marco (who 
later became the producers of the famous Fanchon & Marco 
Units), Guiran & Marguerite, Jose & Burns (yep, that was George 
Burns of the now famous comedy team of Burns & Allen) , Addison 
Fowler & Florence Tamara ( first dancing act to have their names in 
lights at the Palace), the Gigatanos, the Merediths, Ramon & 
Rosita, Harrison & Fisher, the Dancing Kennedys, the Gliding 
O'Mearas, the Marvelous Millers, the De Forests, Cortez & Peggy, 
Moss & Fontana, Veloz & Yolanda, and of course the champs, 
Tony & Renee De Marco. 

There were real great regular dancing acts that did all types of 
dancing, like Adelaide & Hughes (played twelve consecutive weeks 
at the Palace, the record), and Fred & Adele Astaire, who were 
stars on Broadway after a long and honest apprenticeship in vaude 
and broke up when Adele decided to become Lady Cavendish; 
Fred became tops of all-round dancers. I remember the ad the 
Astaires ran in Variety in June 1917, a full page that read, "Doing 
big in the West, what will the East say?" Well, as you know, it 
said they were greatl Then there were Bradley & Ardine, Riggs and 
Witcliic, Burns & Fulton, Hal Le Roy, and Ed Ernie & Emil 
Honcgger, monopede dancers. One had the right leg off and the 
other the left, and they each wore the same size shoe, so they 
would buy one pair of shoes. Of course Peg Leg Bates, the Negro 
monopede dancer, is the greatest of them all, Ivan (Bankoff & 
Girlie) introduced the Russian hock step into regular dancing. 
Others were Dorothy Stone and Charles Collins, Martin & Fabrini 
(who now draws the cartoon "Winnie Winkle"), Vilrna & Buddy 

Leftf s Letters 46 

Ebsen, the Lockfords, Joe Frisco, the originator of the jazz dance, 
who with his cigar and derby hat created a sensation and had many 
imitators, and Piker & Douglas, assisted by George Raft (who did a 
hot Charleston). 

Among the toe dancers of vaude we had Adele Genee, Bessie 
Clayton, Harriet Hoctor, Adelaide, Mazie King, and a local gal that 
Mark Leucher brought back from Paris where he took her to plant 
the rep. He called her Le Domino Rouge (her right name was 
La Belle Daizie) ; she wore a red mask on and off the stage and got 
plenty of publicity. She finally got tired of the continual masking 
and gave it up and was known on the stage as Mile. Dazic (in 
private life she was Mrs. Leucher). Menzeli, known as Girlie 
(Bankoff & Girlie), was once picked by Adele Genee as one of 
the best dancers in the world. (She and Bankoff had to split be- 
cause the booking office couldn't pay the act enough dough,) 
Sally Rand once did a toe dance at the Palace. 

Of course we also had the adagio craze and it seemed that every 
acrobat became an adagio dancer. Myrio originated the Adagio 
Trios, and Ted Adolphus pioneered especially in comedy routines. 
The apache was done by William Rock & Maude Fulton at Ham- 
merstein's, beating G. Molasso & Mile, Corio to it by a few weeks. 
Molasso was the originator and really the starter of the tidal wave 
of apache acts. 

Then there were the boys and gals with the 'laughing feet/' the 
Edisons of hoofology, the great eccentric dancers. In the early 
'gos the Majiltons were one of the first great teams of eccentric 
dancers, but to come down to near now, there was a guy named 
Tom Dingle who danced one night as an unknown at the Friars' 
Frolic and became the sensation of Broadway, There were "Bunny" 
Granville with his drunk dance and Jack Donahue with his famous 
shadow dance. Renee Riano, Daphne Pollatd, Violet Carlson, 
Martha Raye, Nellie Breen, Charlotte Greenwood, Fanny Bricc 
(with her dying swan burlesque) were all very funny gals, Richards 
(of Bennett & Richards) was acknowledged as one of the greatest 
eccentric dancers and would have been a star, but because of 
alimony trouble couldn't play New York. Harland Dixon (Doyle 
& Dixon, the classiest two-man hoofing aet in show bix) was one 
of the great eccentric dancers, originating many steps now used by 
eccentric dancers. Fred Stone had a style all his own. Ix>uis Moscom 
did an acrobatic eccentric dance that was great, Others were Jim 


Barton, one of the greats, Leon Enrol, the original rubber-legged 
drunk, Al Leach, Al Lydell, Ray Bolger, one of the tops, Will 
Mahoney with his "falling-down" dance and his great novelty of 
dancing on a xylophone, Carl Francis, Ben Blue, a very funny 
dancer, Eddie Foy, Jr., Dick Carle, Gil Lamb, Rags Leighton, 
Bert Williams, Buster West, Willie Solar, Hal Skelly, Tom Smith, 
and Johnny Boyle. 

Some are gone, some have switched from Sloan's Liniment to a 
throat gargle, and some are still hoofing. 

With a deep bow of appreciation from me and Aggie to the real 
greats of years ago like George Primrose, Barney Fagan, Eddie 
Leonard, Patsy Doyle, Barney Ferguson, Eddie Foy, Sr., Bobby 
Gaylor, Bobby Newcomb (who originated song and dance), 
Blanche LaMont, the McNulty Sisters, Sam & Kitty Morton, Need- 
ham & Kelly, Mike Scott, and Pat Rooney, Sr., I am sorry to say 
that the dancers of today are miles ahead of the old ones. The 
steady development in the art in conception and execution of 
dance steps would amaze you. Any gal in the Radio City line can 
outdance any old-time gal you could mention I did not say "out- 
personality" her but dancing the old-timers couldn't even touch 
these kids. There are only two branches of vaude that are better 
today than years ago dancing and acrobatics! 

Okay, perfessor, play the last eight bars forte . . . and get 
us off. ... SEZ 

Your pal, 


The Sketch 

Dear ]oe f 

The "'sketch" was the backbone of vaudevillel It shared honors 
with the great comedy acts and put "class" into vaudeville! 

In the old variety days, the afterpiece was the sketch of the bill. 

Lefty's Letters 48 

Later it was followed by Irish, Dutch, and blackface skits that used 
a thin plot to introduce a song and dance or the playing of an 
instrument. Many of us can still remember the skits of the early 
days that opened up with the lady of the act walking to the foot- 
lights with a letter in her hand, saying, "I wonder what I will do? 
I just received a letter from my partner saying that he is unavoid- 
ably detained and can not make the show tonight." 

Just then a man enters with a trunk saying, "Say, lady, where 
do you want this trunk?" 

'Tut it in the next room. Say, you look like a bright young man. 
Flow would you like to be an actor?" 

"You mean an actor on the stage?" 

"Yes," sez the lady. "You will find my partner's clothes in the 
trunk. They should fit you; here's your part. Go in that room and 
change, and I will put you on the stage with me." He exits and 
she turns to the audience saying, "While he is getting ready, I will 
rehearse my song." 

Then she would sing a song and after the song he would conic 
out dressed in maybe a misfit Roman gladiator's outfit, and ych, 
you guessed it he would replace her partner. 

Crude? Maybe, but it served the purpose, which was to get away 
from a "specialty in one." In the early clays of vaudc a fnll-stngc 
act was valuable because there were so many acts "in one" and a 
full stage would break up the monotony. In later years it was just 
the reverse. 

To J. Austin Fynes, the manager of Keith's Union Square Thea- 
tre (New York), goes the credit for bringing the great stars of the 
legitimate stage to vaude. He paid fabulous salaries (for those 
days) to lure them to the field that was looked down on by the 
legits. They couldn't do specialties, so naturally Mr, Fynes had to 
supply them with a vehicle, usually a dramatic sketch, for which 
he had to hire a good author, llicre is no argument that these stars 
added class to vaude, and also brought patrons who had never 
before entered a vaudeville theater; they came, they saw, and be- 
came steady customers. 

There were two types of authors for vaude. Some of them could 
write sketches, while others wrote comedy talk for specialty acts* 
Only a few were versatile enough to write for both. Some of the 
acts wrote their own stuff, but they were in the minority. Among 
the good dramatic writers were Dave Belasco, Paul Armstrong, Sit 


W. S. Gilbert, Arthur Hopkins, John Golden, Willard Mack, J. M. 
Barrie, Roy Fairchild, Jack London, Roland West, Robert Garland, 
Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Sam Shipman, Sir Conan Doyle. Some of 
the comedy-sketch writers were Paul G. Smith, Will Cressy, George 
Totten Smith, Billy K. Wells, George M. Cohan, Junie McCree, 
James Madison, Matt Woodward, George Ade, Tommy Gray, 
Bozeman Bulger, George Kelly, Clay M. Green, Al Boasberg, Ed- 
win Burke, Ren Shields, Len Hollister, Gene Conrad, S. Jay Kauf- 
man, Ralph T. Kettering, Bert Leslie, Edgar Allan Woolf, Roy 
Atwell, and of course one of the greatest of all vaude writers, Aaron 
Hoffman. There were a few that could do almost any kind of 
writing, "gag stuff/' songs, comedy, and dramatic acts but these 
were very few. I believe that Edgar Allan Woolf, Will Cressy, Paul 
G. Smith, and Tommy Gray wrote more acts than most of them. 
Woolf and Cressy were practically booking-office writers; whenever 
a legit needed an act for the Big Time, the office would recommend 
a writer. Woolf and Cressy were great friends of Eddie Darling, 
the head booker of the Keith Circuit, and his recommend was 
practically an order. 

Cressy & Dayne had a new sketch almost every season, sometimes 
two. Ryan & Ritchfield were the first to introduce sequels to their 
sketches: "Mag Haggerty's Reception," "Mag Haggerty in Society," 
etc. Ryan was one of the funniest Irish comics in all of show biz. 
The way he said, "Is it?" was unforgettable! Bert Leslie also ran 
sequels to his acts. He was the originator of slang in his skits, ex- 
pressions like "Under the sink with the rest of the pipes," "Make 
a noise like a hoop and roll away," etc. Junie McCree also used 
slang in his character as a elope fiend; his was a natural slang while 
Leslie's was sort of manufactured. J. C. Nugent was one of the first 
sketch artists to open his act "in one," go to "full stage," and close 
"in one." This enabled him to follow a full-stage act and also give 
the stagehands a chance to set a full-stage act to follow him, which 
made it an easy sketch to book. He would write his own acts, and 
had a new one almost every season. 

In the early days of variety and vaude, the sketch played in house 
sets consisting of a "center-door fancy" or a "kitchen set," which 
was a center-door fancy turned around, A kitchen in those days 
was a miserable-looking place (according to vaude scenery). A 
"rich man's home" usually contained odd furniture, a few rubber 
or palm plants, and a few pieces of statuary. The property man was 

Lefty's Letters 50 

given a few passes to hand out to people he borrowed the furniture 
from, but sometimes the stores insisted on program credits too. 
As the sketches grew better and more plentiful, the sets improved 
too, with better furniture, maybe a gold chair or two (that showed 
it was a rich man's hut), a settee, a practical door or window, 
drapes, and even a light switch. When vaude was firmly estab- 
lished, many sketch artists carried their own scenery and furniture, 
light effects, and even a stage carpenter and electrician. 

The first record of a comedy sketch in variety shows was in 1873; 
the team was John & Maggie Fielding. Then in 1877 Charles 
Rogers & Mattie Vickers did a sketch. Later came Tom & Hattie 
Nawn in "One Touch of Nature." One of the first dramatic 
sketches (if not the first) was put on by Francesca Redding with 
her former stock leading man, Hugh Stanton. The act was 
called, "A Happy Pair," and that was in 1890. It was not until 1896 
that dramatic acts really took hold in vaude, when J. Austin Fyncs 
got Charles Dickson and Lillian Burkhart, Sidney Drew (the Barry- 
mores 7 uncle) and Gladys Rankin Drew and John Mason and 
Marion Manola to enter the ranks of vaudeville. 

Since then, I don't believe there has been a real great star of 
the legit and musical-comedy stage who didn't play at least a week 
or two in vaude. While some of them used vaude as a fill-in when 
their shows would close for the season or flop, many of the top 
stars found vaude very profitable and much steadier work than their 
regular shows, and played routes season after season. Someone 
once said, "When a legit loses his voice, he goes into vaudeville." 
But that wasn't really so, because many of them were very success- 
ful in the vaude field and would take a show every once in & while h> 
sort of holster up their reps as legit stars for vaude. Most of them 
would play dramatic sketches, as it upheld their dignity and they 
didn't have to combat the terrific opposition of the many great 
comedy acts. There were a number of "light comedy" stars who had 
comedy sketches that became standard acts, 

To mention all the dramatic sketches would read like the Who's 
Who of the legitimate stage. 1 will try to recall just a few that im- 
pressed me and Aggie sketches like Margaret Anglin in 'The 
Wager"; Edward Abclcs, "Self Defence**; Jean Aclair, "Maggie 
Taylor, Waitress"; Julia Arthur, "Liberty Aflame"; Ilobnrt Bos- 
worth, "Sea Wolf; Amelia Bingham, "Big Moments from Great: 
Plays"; Sarah Berahartlt in a scries of sketches; Harry Bcresford, 


"Old New York"; Valerie Bergere, "Judgment"; Richard Bennett, 
"The Common Man"; George Beban, "Sign of the Rose." Ethel 
Barrymore is supposed to have played only Barriers Twelve Pound 
Look in vaude, but in 1913 she played the Palace with a skit called 
"Miss Civilization." After that she used Barrie's sketch for all 
her appearances in vaude, except once when she played "Drifted 
Apart/ 7 first done in 1882. 

Lionel Barrymore, McKee Rankin, and Doris Rankin did "The 
White Slave." John Barrymore was a big hit in a comedy sketch, 
"The Honeymoon." Others were Mrs. Leslie Carter in "Zaza"; 
George Nash, "Unexpected"; Nance O'Neill, "Second Ash Tray"; 
Florence Reed, "Jealousy"; Julius Steger, "Tenth Commandment" 
(a great act, and a great artist, who demanded absolute quiet when 
he was on stage; he was nicknamed "Shhhhh" Steger); Lou Telle- 
gen, "Blind Youth"; Henry B. Walthall, "The Unknown"; Robert 
Mantell and Genevieve Hamper, scene from Macbeth (Julia Arthur 
was first to do a scene from Hamlet in vaude); Henri Du Vries, 
"Case of Arson"; Allan Dinehart, "The Meanest Man in the 
World" (George M, Cohan made a play out of this); Walter 
Hampden, "Blackmail"; Frank Keenan, "Man to Man"; Mrs. Lil- 
lian Langtry, "The Test"; Willard Mack and Marjorie Rarnbeau, 
"Kick In" (this too was made into a show). Of course Nazirnova 
in "War Brides," which she played during World War I, was one 
of the most dramatic acts, because it dealt with a war at the time 
a war was on, and it hit almost everybody in the audience. Comedy 
acts feared to follow this one (she was much tougher to follow 
than Bernhardt) ; the best comedy acts worked at least ten minutes 
before the audience dried their eyes. 

Among the great comedy sketches (and me and Aggie are just 
trying to recall the belly-laugh sketches; others got plenty of laughs 
too, but the belly-laughers really counted) , of course my list always 
starts with Imhof, Conn & Corinne in "The Pest House" as one 
of the most consistent belly-laugh getters. Running neck and neck 
with Imhof was Willard Simms in "Flindcr's Flats," a guy trying 
to do his own paper hanging. John B. Hymer in "Come On, Redl"; 
Ryan & Ritchfield, "Mag Haggerty's Reception"; Harry Watson, 
Jr., "Tell Him What I Did to Philadelphia Jack O'Brien" or "Bat- 
tling Dugan"; Leon Enrol, 'The Guest"; Bert Baker, "Prevarica- 
tion"; Gordon Eldrid, "Won by a Leg"; Harry Green, "George 
Washington Cohen"; Mr, and Mrs, Sidney Drew, "'Billy's Tomb- 

Lefty s Letters 52 

stones"; and Tommy Dugan and Babe Raymond, "The Apple 
Tree" are about all I have room for. 

Of course there were standard comedy sketch artists of vaude that 
were sure-fire: Mason & Keeler, John C. Rice & Sally Cohen, Harry 
"Zoop" Welsh, Macart & Bradford, Barnes & Crawford, Halligan & 
Sykes, Dave Ferguson, Fred Ardath, Franklyn Ardell, Dolan & 
Lenhar, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Murphy, Cressy & Dayne, Tom Nawn, 
Claude and Fannie Usher, Emmett Devoy, Lulu McConell & 
Grant Simpson, O'Brien Havel, Stevens & Hollister, Harry Holman 
in "Adam Killjoy/' and Alexander Carr, who with "The End of the 
World" (or "Toblitsky Says"), a kind of "Abie's Irish Rose/' 
written by Aaron Hoffman, was one of the longest-playing sketches 
in vaude. Mrs. Gracie Emmett played in "Mrs. Murphy's Second 
Husband" for over twenty-five years, as did Ward & Curran in their 
courtroom act. 

The property man was, 1 believe, the first "stooge"! In the young 
days of vaude it was too expensive to carry an actor for a bit 
part, so trie property man was used. He would play such bits as a 
letter carrier, maybe with just a line like, "Here's a letter for you, 
madarne," or the part of a cop who would say, "Move on/' or, 
"And sure it's a lovely day, Mrs. Callahan," or an iceman, messen- 
ger boy, or even a dead body. For this he would receive 50 cents 
a show. Some of the old-time property men became very good 
actors and ad-libbers, sometimes forgetting their regular lines and 
ad-libbing lines that were so funny that they were kept in. George 
Williams, the property man at Keith's, Boston, was for many years 
the best of the ad-libbers and it was because of his popularity that 
many an act got over. When Mr. Albcc opened the beautiful Me- 
morial Theatre in Boston, it was Williams who received the biggest 
hand of all the celebrities that were introduced. 

One trouble nearly all the comedy sketches had was a lack of 
good curtain lines. There were acts that had the audience jjcrciuu- 
ing with laughter all the way through, but fell flat at the finish and 
just managed to get a couple of forced fast curtain calls. They were 
always offering big money for a "wow" curtain line,, but; as I said, 
very few ever got it. The dramatic acts had some drama lie line for 
a finish, or a surprise twist, and didn't expect too much applause* 
They would get their applause for good acting or for the act',s dra- 
matic value. But bookcrs (who should have known bettor) judged 


most acts by applause at the finish. That is why so many acts 
"stole" bows or "milked" audiences. 

Continuous vaudeville, with the noise made by people coming 
in and going out and changing seats, didn't help the sketch any. 
And when they started building the large vaude houses, the sketch 
was doomed. The dramatic people, instead of going to vaude "be- 
tween shows," now were going into pics. Many of the standard 
comedy sketches went back to acts "in one" where they could be 
heard; many of them went to radio. The writers went to radio and 
pictures where the returns were twice and three times as much as 
they ever made in vaudeville ... but there wasn't any fun mak- 
ing it! SEZ 

Your pal, 


The Single Woman 

Dear Joe, 

A vaudeville show without the "single woman" was like a jet 
plane that doesn't jet! 

1 mean the gals who used to belt over any kind of a song- 
comedy, ballad, or novelty; and I mean belt them over on their 
own power without the aid of an engineer, P.A. system, micro- 
phone, fancy arrangements, and all the do-clacis that ruined vaude 
but started a bigger business. I'm not taking anything away from 
the modern single gals who whisper into mikes or become stars 
overnight by making a hit record (and become unknowns just as 
fast). They certainly have their place in today's show biz and a 
lot of them are real good and have talent and would have made 
good in the old clays of vaude, But those gals of the two-a-day and 
its kindergarten, the "family time/' were a different breed! 

The Golden Dozen -Maggie Cline, Bonnie Thornton, Lillian 
Russell, Eva Tanguay, Nora Bayes, Vesta Victoria, Alice Lloyd, 

Lefty's Letters 54 

Irene Franklin, Florence Moore, Helen Morgan, Fanny Brice, and 
Irene Bordoni have all gone "upstairs/ 7 Sophie Tucker, "the Last 
of the Red-Hot Mamas/' hasn't cooled off in nearly fifty years of 
trouping and today is the Deaness of all the single gals. Belle Baker 
is the runner-up among the still-working daughters of Mother 
Vaudeville and still is a drawing card and a show-stopper! Kate 
Smith is doing just as big and even bigger on radio and TV than 
she did in vaude, and that's big, "brother! Mae West has 'em com- 
ing up to see her anytime she feels like playing. Helen Kane "boop- 
a-boops" her hit way in theaters and night clubs. Molly Picon is 
still a great international star headlines Beatrice Lillie is jamming 
'em in with her one-woman show, Fritzi Schcff takes a flyer now 
and then on TV and radio to sing "Kiss Me Again/ 7 as docs 
Blanche Ring to keep the "Rings on My Fingers and Bells on My 
Toes" from rusting. Ethel Merman has added the scalp of pictures 
to her talented belt, while Ethel Waters is going strong in all 
mediums of show biz! 

What a bunch of swell gals! 

Many of the headlincrs have retired to become mothers and 
grandmothers, some arc housewives, while others, like Gertrude 
Vanderbilt, arc big business executives. May Usher is in the dress 
business, Marguerite Young is in the real estate hi/, Gertrude I Toil- 
man runs a dancing school, Grace Hayes had her own cafe, as did 
Janet of France; both entertained their customers until the registers 
overflowed and they retired. Blossom Scclcy makes a few personal 
appearances with the picture about her life* Juliet takes out her 
one-woman show when she feels stage-struck, Ailccn Stanley lias 
a school where she teaches talented youngsters how to sock over 
numbers like she used to do. Ethel Levy shuttles back and forth 
between New York and London and still sings* a great song, Klsie 
Jam's writes for pictures, Trixie Frigama still docs shows for Hie 
GFs, Pert Kelton does plenty of work on TV and radio, and Nonna 
Terris is ready to come back to us. And the ones who are very happy 
in retirement or marriage are Rae Samuels, Nan Ilalpcrm, Louise 
Dresser, Grace LaRue, Frances Arms, Bobby Folsonv Yvette flu- 
gel, Ruth Etting, Ruby Norton, Lillian Shaw, and many many 
more who are living on the dough they sent home every week when 
they were the queens of the two-a-day! And many more, I am sorry 
to say, are not playing the route any more, but their memories 
grow greener with the passing years! 


She was a great gal, the single woman she had to be! When 
she made her entrance, it was the signal for bookers, agents, man- 
agers, musicians, stagehands, actors, and "town guys 77 to go on the 
make. But you didn't have to worry about those gals; they had 
"routines" that were better than chastity belts. Some of them car- 
ried their mothers (or a facsimile) or "sisters" to dress 7 em and 
to act as alibis. You know, "I got to take my sister along. . . ." 
Most of 'em were wise, smart-cracking gals who knew their stuff 
on and off. Many of them would put on the helpless act, moaning, 
"I don't know how to get my Pullman reservations/' "I don't know 
how to check my baggage." (And the man dope would check it 
for her and pay the excess, saying, "Oh, forget it, it wasn't much/') 
They had a way of getting guys to do things for them. But it wasn't 
all fun, because they had to put in hours of rehearsal on their 
songs, hours with their dressmakers, hairdressers, writers, and, sez 
Aggie, "especially with their piano players." (A wisecrack.) 

The single woman, more than any other act, was just as good 
as her material and dressmaker. No matter how pretty she was, she 
couldn't overcome a bad routine of songs. So the smart ones were 
on the lookout for writers of special material and especially comedy 
songs. Laughs always paid off in vaude, as they do today in radio 
and TV. Many a gal was made by a comedy song or a great ballad! 
A pop song they could get from the publishers, who even paid 
them for using it. But with competition it became tougher and 
tougher to depend just on pop songs. Using them meant getting 
to the theater first to grab the first check for rehearsal and so pro- 
tect themselves from anybody else on the bill using the numbers 
they depended on. Many a single woman would rehearse ten songs 
(some of which she knew she wouldn't use) to keep some other 
gal or act from using them. The gals who didn't have a piano player 
to attend rehearsals had to appear themselves, sometimes at 7 A.M. 
for an 11 o'clock rehearsal. Orchestra leaders were bribed, stage 
managers overtippcd, doormen perjured themselves swearing who 
appeared first, wires were pulled to keep other acts from using a 
new published number that maybe the single woman depended on 
to put over her act. 

Publishers paid the headliners and features, because having a 
vsong introduced by Nora Bayes, Belle Baker, Sophie Tucker, Rae 
Samuels, and many more of that type entertainer meant a hit song. 
There were no radios and TV and it was mostly through vaude 

Lefty's Letters 56 

that pop songs were made. Some of the publishers even furnished 
clothes, special versions, orchestrations and arrangements, and even 
scenery and a "plugger" in the box, besides paying the salary of the 
piano player. The professional managers for the song publishers in 
the big cities would entertain the gals, paying for their meals, 
hotels, etc., so the gals were able to send most of their salary to 
the receiving tellers of their favorite banks. 

Many of the headliners paid outright for their special material, 
but some paid 10 per cent of their salaries. It was worth it, because 
it helped their acts and, most important, raised their salaries and 
kept them "up there." Clothes were a very important part of the 
single woman's act, except the ones that did character comedy like 
Vesta Victoria, Lillian Shaw, etc. As soon as a gal appeared in what 
they call a "stunning creation," all the other gals would hunt up 
the same dressmaker, who overnight became a "modiste/' and who 
would then enjoy a season or two of much moolah! It was the same 
with writers; when one turned out a good hunk of material, all the 
gals would try to get him to write for their acts. I believe Blanche 
Merrill was what the professors call a "much-sought-after writer/' 
because she wrote many great songs for Tanguay. Irene Franklin 
and Elsie Janis wrote their own stuff. 

In the 1900$ many of the so-called single women carried "insur- 
ance" in the form of pickaninnies, or "picks/' as they were called. 
After singing a few songs on their own, they would bring out the 
picks (a group of Negro kids that really coulcl sing and dance) 
for a "sock" finish. It really wasn't a single act, but nevertheless they 
were so classified. There are a few come to mind that were tops, like 
Grace LaRue with her Inky-Dinks, Phina & Her Picks (she changed 
her name later to Josephine Gassman), and Ethel Whitcsidc and 
Her Picks, Laura Comstock's picks were three white boys black- 
ened up: Henry Bergman (Clark & Bergman), Charlie O'Connor 
(later with Six American Dancers), and Nelson Davis. Then there 
were Mayme Remington & Her Black Buster Brownie Ethiopian 
Proclig<5s (shows you they weren't satisfied to bill 'cm as picks), 
Josephine Saxton and Her Four Picks, Emma Kraus & Her Dutch 
Picks (they sang in German and made up like Dutch kids), and 
Louise Dresser & Her Picks (she was married then to Jack Nor- 
worth) . Canta Day pulled a switch by billing her act, "Canta Day 
and Her White Picks"! Carrie Scott, "the Bowery Girl/' was the 
first to use picks; that was in the early '90$, 


There was great competition among the single women. Tanguay 
was the first to carry a "leader" instead of a piano player; she later 
added a cornetist. Many had fine pianists, then some had two 
pianists, some put in bands, others colored bands, jazz bands, spe- 
cial drummers, etc. When one would have a beautiful lamp at the 
piano, someone would top her by having three or four lamps; one 
would have a Spanish shawl draped on the piano, so someone else 
would outdo her by draping a mink, etc., etc., until the single 
woman, who used to just come out in front of a street drop and 
sing, practically became a "production." The terrific competition 
and jealousies paid off at the box office! 

The headline single women were a temperamental lot. They 
would walk off a show because of a bad dressing rooni 7 billing, or 
spot on the program. Fritzi Scheff once walked out of the Palace 
and Mr. Albee had a sign put in the lobby saying that because she 
walked out she would never play the Palace again. She was back 
in a few weeks. The big moguls forgave anybody who could bring 
money to the till, but they could stay mad for a long time if it 
was just another act. Nora Bayes "walked" many a time, as did 
Tanguay (who was the most temperamental of them all). Fanny 
Brice was the least temperamental. 

Nora Bayes was the ''class" of all the single women a truly 
great artist who did everything with class gestures. When she was 
married to Jack Norworth, they would travel in a private car (no 
actors did that before, and I can't remember anybody that did it 
since). She would sweep into a hotel, taking half a floor for her 
company. She would pay the expenses of her piano player and 
wife, her two adopted children and governess, her maid, and maybe 
of a few friends that were just traveling along. She allowed no in- 
terviews (and got more publicity that way, as the papers thought 
they were putting something over on her) . She would always work 
with a fine lace handkerchief in one hand, or a fan. She was in the 
first Ziegfeld Follies, She was also the first to sing George M. 
Cohan's immortal song, "Over There"; Cohan came backstage at 
the Thirty-ninth Street Theatre, where she was giving her own 
show with a few acts, and told her he had just written a song and 
would she sing it, which she did with Irving Fisher a few nights 
later. Her first husband was an undertaker by the name of Cross- 
ing, Jack Norworth was next, then came Harry Clark, Arthur Gor- 
doni, and Ben Friedland. She was one of the few gals who had a 

Lefty's Letters 58 

theater named after her, the Nora Bayes Roof atop the Forty-fourth 
Street Theatre. She died at the age of fifty; her last professional 
appearance was at the Fox Academy of Music for three days, and 
the last thing she did was to sing for the Doyer's Mission on March 
19, 1928. She was put in a receiving vault in Woodlawn and wasn't 
buried until eighteen years later (1946, when her fifth husband 
died) . Nora Bayes was not only a great artist but a great big-hearted 

Eva Tanguay, who to me and Aggie represented the true spirit 
of vaudeville, was everything a vaude headliner should be, a gal 
who came up the hard way, temperamental, good newspaper copy, 
always doing something to pump blood into the box office. Here 
are some of the billings of Tanguay, which I believe give you the 
story of the gal: 'The Girl Who Made Vaudeville Famous/ 7 
"Cyclonic Eva Tanguay/ 7 "Mother Eve's Merriest Daughter/ 7 "The 
Genius of Mirth and Song/' "America's Champion Comedienne/' 
"Our Own Eva/' "America's Idol/' "The Girl the Whole World 
Loves/' "Vaudeville's Greatest Drawing Card/' "The One Best 
Bet/ 7 "The Evangelist of Joy," etc., etc. 

Eva Tanguay played first in Chamberlain's "My Lady Co. 7 ' at 
Hammerstein's, when they played shows. She started in the chorus, 
then sang two numbers. The girls in the chorus crabbed her num- 
bers by throwing buns, talking, etc. One night she stopped in the 
middle of a number and started a terrific fight with the girls, pull- 
ing hair, etc. Her name got in the papers the next day and she 
saw that it stayed there until her death. Starting with $25 a week 
and going to $3,500, she replaced Norworth & Bayes in the Zieg- 
feld Follies in 1909 and had her name as big as the show, the only 
one who ever had that kind of billing in the Folliesl The next year 
P. G. Williams had a contest offering a prize for breaking the 
records at the Colonial; Tanguay, Hoffman, Suratt, and Nat: Good- 
win were the competitors- Tanguay won! 

She once went on Amateur Night for her friend foe Schcuck 
(who, by the way, gave her a weekly check when things were tough 
with her) at Locw's National Theater in the Bronx; she was billed 
as Lillian Doom and was a terrific hit! She fought with stagehands, 
musicians, bookers, managers, and even acts, but when she liked 
you she was a great gal r and she packed y em in for years. Me and 
Aggie won't say she had a great talent, but she did have a beautiful 
form and a terrific personality that got her the kincl of money that 


meant Fort Knox! You could write a big fat book about Eva, and 
it was too bad she had to end her days on charity, but she only got 
back a small part of what she gave out. She was the greatest adver- 
tiser of any vaude act in America . . . but besides advertising you 
must have something to deliver. Tanguay had it! 

Tanguay and Sophie Tucker spent more money on costumes and 
material than any other single women in show biz. Sophie would 
come back season after season with new ideas, material, scenery, 
and clothes. For many years she had (and still has) on her payroll 
as special-material writer the very talented Jack Yellen, who with 
Lew Pollack wrote her famous "Yiddisher Mama." Ted Shapiro 
has been her accompanist for nearly thirty years, and in all those 
years Ted has never called Sophie anything but Miss Tucker (on 
or off stage) . I am not going to tell you much about Sophie, be- 
cause she wrote a book about herself, so why should I crab sales, 
but I do want to say that she is a gal whom everybody in show biz 
is proud of, not only because she brought great talent to vaude 
but because she also brought a great heart! 

To write biogs of all the great single gals in vaude would take 
a book by itself, so I will mention just a few of the greats and see 
if you can put them together in your jigsaw memories of vaudeville. 
Not in the order of their importance, because they were all impor- 
tant. I have already mentioned many of them, so will kinda add to 
the list as they come back to memory: Mabel McCane, Mabel 
Hite, Lottie Gilson, Marion Harris, Frances White, Gracie Fields, 
Clarice Vance, Edna Aug, Marie Cahill, Fay Ternpleton, Marie 
Dressier, Lilly Lena. 

There were a lot of single women that were headliners but not 
box-office, gals that had terrific talent, big billing as attractions and 
features, and were terribly important to vaude, gals like Sadie Burt, 
Gertrude Barnes, Amy Butler, Olive Briscoe, Edith Clifford, Anna 
Chandler, Ruth Roye, Reinc Davis, Grace DeMarr, Aunt Jemima, 
Maude Lambert, Ann Laughlin, Ray Cox, Marie Nordstrom, Ma- 
rie Russell, Lucy Wcston, Marguerite Young, Elizabeth Murray, 
Daisy Harcourt, Bessie Wynn, Daphne Pollard, Adelc Rowland, 
Miss Patricola, Lydia Barry, Truly Shattuck, Frances Arms, Lillian 
Fitzgerald, Edna Lecclom, Bobby Folsom, Ann Grcenway, Violet 
Carlson, Sylvia Clark, Grace Hazard, Winnie Lightner, and a raft 
of others. 

Then there were the special attractions and middle and bottom 

Lefty's Letters 60 

attractions like Dixie Hamilton, May Usher, Emily Darrell, Ethel 
Davis, Grace Hayes, Frankie Heath, Dolly Kay, Annie Kent, Elida 
Morris, Sally Fields, Grace Cameron, Ray Dooley, Josie Heather, 
Irene Ricardo, Clara Morton, Flo Lewis, Marie Stoddard, Bessie 
Browning, Dorothy Brenner, and more and more and more. 

Just a lot of names, you say? But when you think of them you 
have golden memories of great songs like, "I Don't Care/' "Red 
Head/' "Who You Gettin At, Eh? 77 "Waiting at the Church," 
"Eli, Eli," "Some of These Days," "Military Wedding/ 7 "I'm an 
Indian/ 7 "Giddap Napoleon/ 7 "Toodle-oo," "My Little Bag; of 
Tricks/' "Push, Push, Push/ 7 "Down on the Erie/' "Shine On, 
Harvest Moon/' "St. Louis Blues," "Mississippi/ 7 "Strange Faces/' 
"The Biggest Aspidistra in the World/' "Rings on My Finders/' 
"When the Moon Comes over the Mountain/ 7 "Evening Star/' 
"Forty-five Minutes from Broadway/' "Kiss Me Good-Bye, Flo/' 
"Bill," "My Man/ 7 "By Jingo/ 7 "Robert E. Lee"; try and place 'cm 
with the artists to whom they belong. 

All these songs and the ladies who sang them contributed a lot- 
to the success of vaudeville, and there were many more who haven't 
been mentioned because of space, but it was swell knowing, seeing, 
and hearing you gals, and me and Aggie salute your standard- 
bearer, the hottest mama of 7 em all, who is still carrying on the 
great tradition of the vaudeville single woman- Sophie Tucker] 

Your pd f 


Vaudeville Music 

Dear Joe, 

From the first clays of the honky-tonks to the time wlicn the last 
"exit march' 7 was heard at the Palace, music played a very impor- 
tant part in vaudeville! 


A show without music is like the sound going dead on your TV 
set! You just couldn't have a guy play your music on a comb cov- 
ered with tissue paper. For many years the variety shows had the 
old "three-piece orchestra/' piano, stool, and cover! There were 
many great ivory-beaters, most of them nonreaders but great fakers. 
I would say about 80 per cent of all the old-time piano players 
could fake anything you could sing, hum, or whistle! 

I can give you a good picture of the early variety-house orches- 
tras by telling you about Tony Pastor's famous pit boys, Mike 
Bernard, Burt Green, Tom Kelly, Ben Harney, and William Erode: 
they all played there at one time or another. Torn Kelly and Wil- 
liam Erode played the supper shows, while the others played the 
two-a-day acts. 

You never heard such a reception as Mike Bernard got when he 
walked down the aisle daily at 2:15 and at 8:15 P.M. Ragtime was 
just starting and Mike was tops. He won a flock of medals at Tam- 
many Flail, where they would hold yearly ragtime piano-playing 
contests. Years later many a jazz combo copied Mike's stuff. He 
manipulated the ivories so that the average pop song sounded like 
grand opera. He kept interest in the show from the minute he 
seated himself at the pit piano to the final exit march. He did what 
the professors would call "extemporizing," but what me and Aggie 
would call "ad-libbing on the keys." Mike would take an ordinary 
melody and would stick in a lot of musical stuff that the professors 
would say "brought forth a technique and understanding of ex- 
pression that were limitless." (I copied that part,) 

Some of the acts when they first opened at Pastor's got kinda 
sore at Mike (ancl the others) for putting in variations on their 
piano-copy score. Many of 'cm beefed to Tony Pastor that Mike 
was crabbing their act by playing so good that the audience was 
looking at ancl listening to Mike instead of their act. But me ancl 
Aggie will bet he saved more acts than he killed by his ad-libbing 
from the act's lead sheets. After the Monday matinee "beef," the 
acts realized Mike was helping them, and by the middle of the 
week they were ad-libbing with Mike, and getting over, because 
the audience was for Mike against anybody! 

When Mike left Pastor's, Burt Green took his place and became 
a great favorite, which proved what a great guy he must have been 
to be able to follow the piano-playing idol of Fourteenth Street! 
Like Mike, he played the show alone as few orchestras could, ancl 

Lefty's Letters B2 

he ad-libbed operatic variations on the pop themes of that period. 
He had an original trick of playing the overture and changing the 
key and tempo while the house was singing and whistling what 
he originally started. Fie used this comedy bit when he was later 
headlined with his wife, Irene Franklin, for many years in vaude. 
It was always a hit! 

Ben Harney was the pioneer of ragtime music. Modern jazz and 
swing stemmed from the same syncopation. His playing led to^the 
ragtime craze and the cakewalk craze using the same tempo. They 
say that Charles Trevanthan, who wrote "Bully Boy 7 ' for May 
Irwin, was the originator. But Ben learned it when he was in Louis- 
ville, mastered the syncopated rhythm, and came to Pastor's about 
1895. He later went into vaude and did a swell act and certainly 
popularized ragtime playing. 

Tom Kelly and Bill Erode came after Burt Green and were fine 
ivory-ticklers and knew a lot of trick stuff with the eighty-eight 
notes, the same as Mike and Burt, but never got their rep. Anyway, 
these guys will give you an idea of the early variety pit music. They 
had local Mike Bernards (in popularity, not in talent") all over the 
country. There were even two guys on the same street that were 
pretty well known to the customers of Keith's Union Square Thea- 
tre, Emil Katzenstein and Nobel McDonald, and Harrington at 
Henderson's Coney Island, and Jack Connelly at Keith's, Boston, 
were favorites, too. Then there was Rocsncr in San Francisco's 
Orpheum; they had a full orchestra, but the olcl man would play 
on a small organ during intermission, and to make it harder he 
would place a silk scarf over the keyboard and play a tune (a gim- 
mick). He was a swell musician and a good showman. But I saw 
many a piano player in a joint play in the dark when the cops were 
raiding it. (Don't say nothing to Aggie.) 

The orchestras in vaude were built up gradually* First a drummer 
was added. Then some guy who liked music added a catgut scraper 
(violinist); we called them "Yeh, ych men" because they usually 
led the orchestras and while playing the fiddle they had to beat 
out time for the other guys, which they did with their heads, mak- 
ing it look like they were saying "yes" all the time. Little by little 
they added cornet, trombone, and when they got real swell they 
added the "one-in-a-bar" or "live-forever" guy (which is the nice 
bass player) . We never did meet an angry bass playerl The drum- 
mer was a very important guy for acts. He was made the butt of 


all the jokes; the single woman would make love to him, stroke 
his bald head, and leave lipstick on it after kissing him. He would 
have to have a lot of accessories like cowbells, ratchets, horns, etc., 
to make noises with when someone would take a fall. When he 
would shake the cowbell, the comic would usually say "Milk it." 
(What a wow!) 

It was William Morris, Sr., when he was booking the old Music 
Hall in Boston in opposition to Keith, who made the manager put 
in a small orchestra instead of just a piano player. Keith didn't 
like it, but had to follow suit and do likewise at his house. It was 
Martin Beck (who really was a music lover) that put in fifteen- 
piece orchestras on the Orpheum Circuit. They played classical 
overtures and Mr. Beck gave orders that they must play the last 
person out of the theater with the exit march. This was really a 
big idea of Beck's, because nearly all musicians would stop playing 
a few minutes after the stereopticon slide, picturing a little child 
dressed in a nightgown with a candle in her hand saying "Good 
Night/' was thrown on the curtain. It left a void and was a letdown 
for the audience walking out of a silent theater. With the orchestra 
"playing 'em out/' the customers carried out the joy of the show 
with them and maybe even hummed a hit tune heard during the 

Leaders and men in the pit of vaude orchestras were specialized 
musicians, because it's a lot different playing for vaudeville acts 
(that had dozens of cues, bits of business, etc.) than playing for 
musical comedy, opera, or symphony. To mention all the fine lead- 
ers is impossible, but there were a few greats at the New York 
theaters that you just have to give a nod to, like Jules Lensberg 
at the Colonial, George May at Hammerstein's, Louis Rheinhart 
at the Orpheum, Brooklyn, Benny Roberts at the Alhambra, Andy 
Byrnes at the Bushwick, J. Leibman at the American Roof, Paul 
Schincllcr, the first leader at the Palace, followed by Lou Foreman, 
Dan Russo, and Charlie Dabb, and Joe Jordan and Ruby Swerling 
at Locw's State. They were very important in helping to put over 
a show. A good leader could cut down rehearsal time, and could 
put over an act or louse 'em up. Many of them did both! 

What I want to tell you about are the musical acts that played 
on "the shelf/' One of the earliest of all novelty musical acts was 
way back in 1876 when a German magician by the name of Heir 
Schlain was the first person to play musical glasses in America. He 

Lefty's Letters 6 * 

billed himself a "cocophonist" (which is certainly high-class billing 
for a guy that plays glasses). There were hundreds that did this 
type musical act for many years (saw a couple on TV who did it 
better than we've ever heard) . 

Early variety performers learned how to plunk a banjo for self- 
protection from some of the piano players; they could at least give 
them the tempo and an idea of the tunes of their songs and dance 
numbers. (By the way, in 1874 they called a banjo a banjar.) There 
were more banjo players among the musical acts in the early days 
than there were uke players when that musical plague hit vauclc 
many years later. Some of the real good banjoists were Bill Bailey, 
the Burt Earl Trio, Claudius & Scarlet (who accompanied them- 
selves while old-time illustrated songs were shown on the screen- 
they did this in all the big-time houses and in the Follies it was 
so old that it was new again), E. M. Hall (who would tell about 
the banjo's origin, etc.), Brent Hayes, Kimball & Donovan, Lee & 
Cowan, Polk & Collins, Perry & Bolger, Blackface Edclie Ross (he 
called it an African harp), and the Howard Bros, (with their flying 
banjos they were real great). 

Variety bills had musical acts (mostly blackface) that did some 
singing and dancing and even acrobatics with their music. And 
when they became better musicians (they had lots of chances to 
practice while doing ten to fifteen shows a day), they naturally 
learned how to play many more instruments and those that couldn't 
do singing, dancing, or comedy started to do straight musical acts 
in white face and passed themselves off as musicians, Johnny 
Thompson, called "the Lively Moke" (blackface) was one of the 
first musical mokes (which meant he played many kinds of instru- 

The first straight musical acts played musical glasses, bells, banjo, 
cornet, violin, piano, Irish bagpipe, sweet potato, harmonica, xylo- 
phone, and harp. The ones who couldn't play well enough did 
novelty acts, which meant they went in for "gimmicks/' playing 
musical rattles, goblctphoncs, and bells (Swiss, hand, and sleigh). 
Musical clowns played odd instruments (much like the guys years 
later who played balloons, tires, saws, ancl washboards) . There were 
trick violinists, concertina players, drummers, one-armed cornctists, 
whistlers, bones and tambourine soloists, musical bottles, etc. Most 
of the guys who played the gimmick instruments couldn't read a 


note if it was endorsed by B. F. Keith! A few were good musicians, 
but figured a novelty would get more dough. 

Til never forget the time me and Aggie worked on a bill with a 
guy who did a musical act. He dressed as a waiter and had a table 
on stage all dressed up like a banquet table (a cheap banquet), 
with bowls of rubber oranges and apples, dishes, silverware, and 
napkins. He would come on after a musical introduction by the 
professor in the pit and start squeezing tunes out of the oranges 
and apples, and blowing the knives, forks, and spoons, which 
sounded like whistles simple tunes like 'Turkey in the Straw" 
and some German folk tunes. For the finish of his act (which was 
set in what was supposed to be a dining room), he would come to 
center stage and say to the audience, in a thick German accent, 
"Vile vaitin' for the beoples to come, I vill vater my roses/' That 
was the cue for the lights to dim down, and the professor would 
play an introduction to "The Last Rose of Summer" (a very popu- 
lar ditty those days) . The guy would pick up a small sprinkling can 
and as it made contact with a rose, the rose would light up and 
he would play the song via bells, and the funny part of it was that 
it was a great finish for his act! 

Me and Aggie were young those days and kinda full of fun, so 
we got all the acts on the bill (three) together and we switched his 
oranges and apples and knives and forks and even misplaced a few 
of the roses for good measure. Well sir, you have never seen such 
a look of surprise on a guy's face as when he squeezed the first 
orange. He looked as surprised as a guy being caught by a house dick. 
When he squeezed a few more and it was "nodding," he figured 
he'd switch to his rose finish and get out of it. When he made the 
first contact, he was exactly eighty-eight notes off key. He said, 
"Gottdammit," then turned to the audience and said, "Sense, 
blcasc," and walked off. 

It really was a dirty trick on our part, but we justified ourselves 
when we found out that the guy had learned his act via numbers. 
Each piece of fruit, knife, and fork, and rose were numbered, so 
we figured he was a lousy musician and maybe he would learn a 
lesson and also some music. Anyway, we did save him from being 
canceled for saying "Gottdammit" said in a little town in Maine 
where they never heard that word except at home! There were 
many like this guy in early variety, but out of these beginnings 

Lefty's Letters ^ 

came some really great musical acts that wouldn't be ashamed to 
hit the Carnegie Hall acoustics! 

Fd like to tell you about some of the novelty musical acts in 
vaude. You may recall many of them. There was Fields & Hanson, 
one of the oldest comedy musical acts (there was one Fields, but 
dozens of Hansons, as he would get a new partner every few weeks). 
One of them would play the "Anvil Chorus" on a cornet while the 
other would beat him on the fanny with a slapstick in time to the 
music, and the player would pay no attention to him. At the finish 
of the selection he would keel over exhausted. It was a big laugh 
(then). Snyder & Buckley, another couple of old-timers, did funny 
bits between playing their instruments. There was a billy goat head 
on the wall with a sign on it, "Bock Beer/' The straight man would 
go over after finishing a number, pull the horns, and get a glass 
of beer. The comic would follow him, pull the horns, and get milk! 
This was carried on all through the act to a real big laugh. 

Adams & White played on farm implements, Josh Aclelman & 
Co. played on tiny instruments, Beltrah & Bcltrah, "The Musical 
Dairy/' milked a prop cow and made music. Carmcnclli & Lucille 
did "Music and Fun in a Butcher Shop" (you can imagine that 
one). Fitch Cooper was the originator of the musical saw (lots of 
acts claimed it). Mile. Carie was a lady champ sleigh-bells player. 
Ferry Corway, a talented musical clown, was one of the best prop- 
makers in the country. George Dixon (not the humorous Wash- 
ington correspondent) played xylophone on a skeleton. (At thai; 
the modern George plays xylophone on politicians.) Luigi Del 'Oro 
played two instruments at one time. This was clone by many others 
years later. Solly Violinsky was the first I ever saw to piny violin 
ancl piano at the same time. Dave Apollou played a mandolin and 
piano (great), The Eastcrbrooks back in 1908 (long before the 
New York World's Fair buses had musical horns) had the first 
auto horn that played a melody. Phil Glissando, on a battleship, 
playccl the guns, life preservers, etc. Zcllaucl Hunt, a deaf tmitc, 
played a great piano. Tommy Hayes played a bone solo, glasses, 
ancl clog biscuits. He would say, while picking up a biscuit, "I 
wonder arc these dog biscuits good enough for my dog Prince/* 
and proceed to "taste 'cm/' and they would turn out to be whistles, 
on which he would play a tune. Billy "Musical" Huchn was an 
expert on the "pcpperina" (which was an ocarina or sweet potato); 
he also played a dozen other instruments, whistled, and danced 


(great). Lazar & Lazar played the "hypnotic glasses" (regular glass 
playing) and had a mechanical orchestra on the back drop. 

Staley & Birbeck were one of the great novelty acts and played 
all over the world. Their act opened on a scene in a blacksmith 
shop; they were all dressed as blacksmiths and played the "Anvil 
Chorus/' hitting horseshoes on large anvils, which sent out sparks 
of electricity and made a beautiful effect. Then in exactly three 
seconds the scene changed to a nice parlor set and all the members 
of the cast were in evening clothes and played many more instru- 
ments. Wilbur Swetman played two clarinets at one time. The 
Tom-Jack Trio threw snowballs at tambourines in frames, which 
made good music. They also fenced and made music by striking 
shields with swords. Toy & Toy played kid toys that were hanging 
on a Christmas tree. Tipple & Kilmet played on wheelbarrows, the 
Transfield Sisters got fine music out df playing on all kinds of 
bottles, and Will Van Allen played on knives and forks while 
seated at a table eating. Willard's Temple of Music had a large 
sawmill, and was the biggest musical act ever produced in vaude- 

There were many musical acts with fine music and scenery. Most 
of them were produced by Jesse Lasky and B. A. Rolfe. Mr. Lasky, 
who is one of the great motion-picture producers, started in vaude 
years ago as a musical act with his sister; he played a cornet 
B, A. Rolfc was one of the great cornetists of his day and had his 
own bands for many years and was a pioneer on the radio. Both 
men produced such fine musical acts as Lasky & Rolfe's Quintette, 
Ye Colonial Septette, Military Octette, fourteen Black Hussars (a 
swell Negro act), Pianopliiends, Clownland, the Rolplionians, and 
many more. There were other big musical acts, like American 
Trumpeters, the Boston Fadettes, with Caroline Nichols as di- 
rector (they had a bit where the all-girl group got mad and walked 
out and Caroline replaced them, playing ten different instruments), 
and the Banjoficnds. The Bell Family (Mexicans) were really one 
of the great musical acts; they played xylophone, mandolins, and 
finished with mixed bells, sleigh, hand, and pipe. There were of 
course the Six Brown Bros, (nearly all related) with their saxo- 
phones, one of the best acts of its kind, Six Musical Cuttys (a great 
family musical organization), Four Emperors of Music, the Expo- 
sition Four, the Old Soldier Fiddlers (sons of Dixie and sons in 
blue), sure-fire applause getters (after about twenty minutes of bad 

Lefty's Letters 68 

fiddlin' on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, they shook hands 
and all was forgiven), Gordon Highlanders, Musical Hodges, Six 
Kirksmith Sisters, Specht's Lady Serenades, Wyatt's Scotch Lads 
& Lassies, and many more. 

Among the great comedy musical acts were Bickle & Watson 
(originally the famous Bickle, Watson & Wrothe), Binns 7 Binns & 
Binns (they all made up like King Edward), Eckhoff & Gordon, 
Farrell & Taylor (he would light his cigar with a gas jet from his 
vest pocket), Goldsmith & Hoppe (a very funny act). Oscar Lor- 
raine and his fiddle was another great comedy act. Grant Gardner 
did a blackface monologue and besides playing a cornet was the 
best large hand-bell player in the world. Turelly, a one-man band, 
also did paper tearing. Dave Harris was one of the most versatile of 
the musical acts; he not only could play almost any kind of an in- 
strument, sing very well, but also was a fine song writer. Volant 
played a swinging piano, and Onaip (piano spelled backwards and 
you thought Serutan originated it?) played a piano that went around 
like a wheel (very fast); the audience couldn't tell how it was clone 
as there were no wires, etc. Wood & Shepherd were real old-timers 
and were the funniest of all the old comedy blackface musical acts! 

We had fine pianists in vaude, like Alaphoncse, Zalaya, Eric 
Zardo, Vilmos Westony (a talented Hungarian), Leon Varvara (a 
talented American), Dave Schooler (he was great even as a kid), 
and Arthur Stone, a blind artist and real good, Andre Rcnaud 
played two pianos at the same time. There were Erno Rapcc, 
Daisy Nellis, Alexander MacFayden, Tina Lerner, Jack Little (who 
was real great), Kharum (he said he was Persian), Ismccl (he said 
he was Turkish), and Hershel Hcndlcr, who played for Texas 
Guinan when she first started and who became a great entertainer 
in his own right. Now me and Aggie knew the score and didn't let 
"billing" throw us, but many of the long-hairs that we thought were 
phonies turned out real important. 

When I recall those Turkish and Persian guys, I must tell you 
about the time we played at the Colonial, New York, There was 
an Indian, not with feathers or war paint but just an Indian front 
over there someplace. Anyway, he was billed like a circus and at 
rehearsal he was wrapped in cotton like a large sore finger and had 
an interpreter with him who told the orchestra leader what he 
wanted, etc. J looked at his act and thought the guy was real great, 
*>o when lie came off I went to his dressing room to tell him* (You 


know, actors would rather get a compliment from their brother 
and sister performers, even if they know it's insincere, than from 
the public). Well, the interpreter makes a big federal case out of it, 
tells the guy what I said, he bows to me, shakes hands, but no 
speaka. Anyway, I goes out the stage door and there's a nice little 
lady out there who looks at me and sez, with a delightful dialect, 
"You're han hector?" and I sez, "Yes." Then she sez, "You voiking 
here?" I again yessed her. "Do you know Hagen Ben Alid?" she 
sez. (I'm faking the name, so Aggie don't get her sunburst taken 
away from her.) I again gave her a pleasant yes. "Den pleese tell 
him dot his sister Sara from the Bronx is vaiting for him." After 
that I even suspected Mahatma Gandhi! 

It wasn't all hokey-pokey in musical vaude; we had top-notch 
artists on any kind of an instrument you can name except the 
cymbals and triangle. 

We had one of the greatest cornetists in the world, Jules Levi. 
There were some fine violinists, like Otto Gygi (who was the hit 
of the Palace opening bill), Manuel Quiroga, Fred Fradkin, Susan 
Tompkins, Rinaldo, Nonette, Isabella Patricola, the Hegedus Sis- 
ters, Jules Saranoff, Countess Le Leonardi, Ross Roma, and don't 
laugh when I mention Ben Bernie and Jack Benny; those guys could 
play when they had to, but comedy paid off much better than fid- 
dlnY unless you were a Heifetz, which those two guys certainly 

There were some real good xylophone players like the Four 
Avalos, Friscoe (Lou China), El Celeve, the Johnsons, El Cota, 
the Five Musical Spillers (Negroes and great), Lcbonati (comedy 
but real good musician), and of course to me the funniest of r em 
all, the Great Lamberti, whose special bit was that while he was 
playing a strip teaser appeared behind him (unbeknownst to him, 
of course) and when the audience applauded he thought it was 
for him (real funny). 

Among the fine accordionists was Frosini (one of the first), 
Dicro (Mae West's ex-hubby), his brother Pictro (they both sold 
thousands of records ), Pcppino, Marconi Bros., Countess Nardini^ 
Charlie Klass, Santucci, Cervo, and my old pal Phil Baker, the 
only guy with a left-handed keyboard! 

In the high-class field like cellists there were Van Biene (one of 
the best), Hans Kronold, Elsa Ruegger, Helen Scholcler, Alfred 
Wallenstein, and David Sapperstein. Now don't get me wrong, 

Lefty's Letters 70 

Joe, me and Aggie don't know if these guys were good or bad, we 
didn't go in for that kinda music, neither did most of the audience, 
"because most of us didn't know what this high-brow soft music 
was about. But they brought in a lot of new customers that would 
yell "Bravo" we didn't like 'em because that type guy doesn't go 
for belly laughs. But we made many a tour with these long-hairs 
over the Orpheum Circuit (Beck was a pushover for this kind of 
talent), where sometimes they were a terrific hit and sometimes 
they flopped good, but at the end of the tour even we liked their 
music and realized that it was harder to learn than a time step! 

There were so many musical acts that they started fighting 
among themselves about originality for publicity purposes. There 
were two acts, the Four Musical Gates and Gray & Graham, who 
spent a lot of dough advertising in the trade papers that they had 
the largest saxophone in the world and proved it with pictures. 
Then another act would answer them and say that they not only 
had the largest saxophone in the world, but they also played HI 
(The trade papers reaped a harvest with them.) Then via the 
Actor's Forum, which was a column run by Variety where the actors 
wrote in their beefs, one act claimed they were the first to use a 
piano bench instead of the regulation stool. They were always argu- 
ing via the Forum who was the originator of this or that. It made a 
lot of fun, because other actors would steam 'cm up to keep the 
argument going. 

The Hawaiian Trio (Toots Papka) were the first to bring the 
steel guitar around, and they were a sensation. Everybody on the 
bill and in the pit tried to find out how the guy got that wonderful 
tone on a guitar, but he would never tell, until one night an actor 
got the guy plenty drunkcc and out came the secret. lie showed 
him the small piece of steel he held in his hand when playing, 
That's all, brother! In a few months vauclc was lousy with lousy 
steel-guitar players! 

Brass bands wore the first real big music in mulebands like 
John S. Eagan's and Arthur Pryor's. Maurice Lcvi and His In- 
visible Band played in front of a black drop with side lights (black- 
magic stuff), and you could hear 'cm but not see 'cm unHl the 
finish; anyway, it was mostly Levi playing his wonderful cornet 
solos. Creatorc & Band of fifty went from vaude to the Hippodrome 
(formerly National) in Boston with pics and free parking space for 
customers (that was in 1915 and the first record of a theater giving 


parking space) . In 1916 the Vaterland Band from the interned ship 
of that name played at Loew's, The Germans in the audience 
cheered! (We weren't in the war yet.) It was three years later when 
Lieut. Jimmy Europe's Band, which made history during the war, 
toured all over the country and packed 'em in. He established jazz 
on Broadway. He was the leader of the 369^1 Infantry Band. (He 
was fatally stabbed in the neck by a member of the band, Herbert 

And of course the tops in bands was John Philip Sousa. Here is 
an interesting item about Sousa that you may not know. He had 
a rug-covered podium, and when he first used it it was two feet 
high, but as the years passed, its height was cut down to make it 
easier for him to mount it. It was only five inches high when it was 
presented to the University of Illinois Library, at Champaign, 
Illinois. He also left the University forty-five trunks of music, and 
three thousand band arrangements, many in manuscript form. 

Bert Kelly & His Jazz Band started a new craze that was to last 
a long time. Kelly is without a doubt the originator of that brand 
of entertainment. There were thousands that followed him. Jazz 
became so bad that the Pittsburgh Musicians demanded death to 
jazz musicians and jazz music. There were amateur jazz-band con- 
tests held at Proctor's Fifth Avenue Theatre. There were about 
two dozen acts in vaude using their own bands for accompaniment 
instead of just having a piano player. It gave prestige to the act and 
also got headline billing for some gals that never passed the deuce 
spot on a bill before or since! 

Henry Santrey & His Band came into the Palace and started a 
new trend in band acts. He was the first to put in specialties (Harry 
& Ann Seymour) between the orchestra numbers. You just shudder 
when you think what he started! Vincent Lopez came along and 
started the fine scenery and novelty electrical effects with his music. 
Ben Bcrnie started the comedy idea. 

Then along came Paul Whiteman and "became tops. He received 
$7,500 at the Hippodrome, which was the highest salary ever paid 
up to then in vaudc; remember, that was in 1925, He turned down 
a million-buck guarantee for three years tp play pic houses. He 
said it would kill his concert tours and maybe somebody else would 
step in. He was getting $9,000 a week in pic houses, He was 
featured in ads at the Hippodrome with a cartoon of his face (this 
cartoon became famous and he is still using it) . It was the first 

Lefty's Letters 72 

time a solo featuring for a single attraction was done at the Keith- 
Albee stand. There was even a list of his numbers in the ad. White- 
man made a great recording of 'Three O'Clock in the Morning" 
which sold three million copies and he only got $75 for recording 
it. Why? Because he didn't get royalties. His "Wonderful One" 
recording got Mickey Neiland about eighteen grand and Paul noth- 
ing (same biz deal) . Paul has learned a hell of a lot since then. 

There were a number of really great orchestras (or bands, as we 
called them) that did swell in big-time vaude. Check your memory 
for these: A & P Gypsies (a string orchestra), Ben Bernie's bunch 
(with Oscar Levant at the piano), Don Bestor, Jimmy Carr, Joe 
Fejcr & His Hungarian Orchestra, Eddie Elkins, Mai Hallctt, 
Isham Jones, Ted Lewis, Abe Lyman, Art Landry, Harry Stodclard, 
Will Vodery, J. Rosamond Johnson, Ted Weems, Aaronson's Com- 
manders, Dixieland Jazz Band, House of David, Kay Kyser, Guy 
Lombard o, George Olsen, Original Memphis Five, Will Osborn, 
Don Vorhees, and so many many more that made beautiful music. 
Otto Kahn's son Roger was first billed as Roger Wolfe's Orchestra, 
later billed under his full name, Roger Wolfe Kahn. He made his 
debut at the Knickerbocker Hotel. Paul Spcclit was the first mod- 
ern dance band to make an appearance in vaude circuit as an 
attraction by itself. He was also the first to advertise catch phrases 
like "Rhythmic Symphonic Syncopation" also first to send a 
modern dance orchestra (the Criterions) to Europe. Bob Bennett's 
Frisco Syncopators was the first singing band and first to use air- 
planes for transportation from London to Paris, 

The guy who started all the dance bands, Art Ilickman, only 
played a few vaude dates. He was the first to hit the East with 
modern dance music in jazz tempo, and the first to do the pull-out 
whistle. (Later he became VP of the St. Francis Hotel in Frisco.) 
FrccI Waring's Pcnnsylvanians appeared for the first time in New 
York at the Strand about 1924. They practically started the auto* 
graph craze, when full-socked dames waited at the stage door for 
the collegians. Here is one of the real great band organizations in 
the country. They proved it by becoming tops in TV, which proves 
my old man's saying, "Quality is always in style/' 

There were over sixty well-known bands in vauclc. That was 
1929, the same year that the Marlboro, Massachusetts, public 
schools had fifty liarmonica orchestras and there were twenty mil- 
lion harmonicas sold r and the uke was making a terrific comeback 


(like Arthur Godfrey made it come back now, after almost a quarter 
of a century) . Bob Williams, a Negro, was the pioneer of the uke 
players; he taught the great Ukulele Ike. Borrah Minevitch with 
thirty- two kids playing harmonicas asked $3,000 to play pic houses. 
(He got that much and more later with just half a dozen kids.) 
He had the first professionally organized harmonica troupe. He 
got the kids through contests in theaters he played. Larry Adler 
without a doubt is the greatest of all harmonica artists! 

Telling you about the regular bands, I almost forgot to tell you 
about the real comedy bands. (There has never been a "craze" in 
vaude that wasn't cashed in on by the comedians.) Frank & Milt 
Britton were one of the first and were the forerunners of Spike 
Jones (very clever) by many years. There were Charles Ahearn's 
Millionaire Band (all tramps) and Wynducjer, who did imper- 
sonations of great leaders and shaved a guy while leading his band. 
Al Tucker had a swell comedy band, and Dave Apollon with his 
Filipinos were real funny, but to me and Aggie, Jimmy Duffy's 
satire on class bands was the greatest; he called it "Ji mm y Duffy's 
Mills Hotel Society Band"! (Mills Hotel, in case you don't know, 
is a flophouse for guys who have no peck-and-pad dough.) 

Another thing I want to tell you about bands is that the "band 
craze" hit vaudeville a terrible wallop when they kept pouring 
bands into every bill. It got so that they put the pit orchestras on 
the stage to play the show (a la presentation houses which to old 
vaudcgocrs was like operating on a guy and then giving him the 
ether) . They dressed the pit orchestras in monkey suits, the nice 
flute and bass players became comics (they thought), everybody 
was trying to get laughs, but it just didn't work. The public got 
sick of the bands and about 1945 there were a lot of bands, but no 
elates for them. Many of the would-be comics went back to the pit 
and played for scale. It did develop a few, a very few, fair comics 
and singers, but it disappointed hundreds of others (who got neigh- 
borhood laughs and thought they were real). 

I forgot to tell you about the great comedy piano players in 
vaudc. Will II. Fox was the first. He did a take-off of Ignacc 
Padcrcwski, the famous Polish pianist, and billed himself as "The 
Paclawhiskcy of the Piano" a real funny man. Tom Waters and 
George Sweet started around this time too and were funny men at 
the keyboard. The comedy piano players all had about the same 
routines. They would play "Dixie" with the left hand and "Yankee 

Lefty's Letters 74 

Doodle" with the right hand, or show how popular songs would 
sound if written by different composers. An imitation of a fife and 
drum corps always was good for a hand. One-hand playing was 
also a sure hit. Jimmy Conlin started playing while standing on 
his head. Chico Marx (Four Marx Bros.) had an original style of 
shooting into the keys with his finger. Herb Williams was the 
funniest of them all with his trick piano that served beer, housed 
chickens, etc. 

I purposely didn't mention the dancing violinists. They had the 
orchestras play double forte so it would drown out their lousy play- 
ing. Did you ever hear one of those dancing fiddlers with just a 
piano in the pit? Woiv/ 

But to come back to the bands, me and Aggie still claim that it 
was the bands that helped play vaudeville out. SEZ 

Your pal, 


Assorted CMrpers 

Dear Joe, 

Singing, like dancing, was the foundation of honky-tonks, variety, 
and vaudeville, and, when you come right clown to it, of almost 
all entertainment! We had thousands of singing acts in vauclc. 
Single men, single women, doubles, trios, quartettes, double quar- 
tettes, sextettes, and big glee clubs like the Meistcrsingcrs* I wrote 
you about the pop singers and serio-comic singers, so I'll tell you 
now about the straight singers, guys and gals who depended on 
their throats for a living, who when they couldn't hit a high note 
couldn't take a prat fall to cover it up- 

One of the sure-fire singing acts was the old-fashioned quartette! 
I, mean the close-harmony singers, the barbershop chorders, who 
used no microphones. There were two kinds of quartettes, The 
straight singing quartette would come out in regular street clothes 


(or tuxes), usually all dressed alike, and belch out ballads and pop 
songs and sometimes even a hunk of opera. The tenor would usually 
sing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling/' the bass would contribute 
"Down in the Coal Mine" or "Asleep in the Deep/' the lead would 
usually sing a pop song, the baritone would render a mother song, 
and they all would finish with a yodel to imitation banjo and 
calliope accompaniment. 

But it was the comedy quartettes that really wowed 'em. They 
all had about the same pattern. The straight man wore a straw hat 
or derby, stock tie, street suit, and of course carried gloves. Then 
there was the "sissy boy/' with a large red bow tie (red was the 
sissy color) and a felt hat with the brim turned up in front. Of 
course the number one comic was a Hebrew or a Dutchman, and 
the fourth man (usually the bass) was a tramp or a "bum legit/' 
with busted high hat and coat trimmed with near fur; sometimes 
this was switched to a "tough guy" wearing a cap, a turtle-necked 
sweater, and a black eye. These comedy quartettes sold rough 
comedy, hoke, hitting each other with newspapers and bladders 
and salving the wounds with close harmony. 

There were some great real old-time quartettes, but I want to 
mention the ones of our time, because the standard chirpers were 
plenty good in their own right. The Bison City Quartette lasted 
the longest, remaining together from 1891 to 1931 with just a few 
changes in the personnel. The original four were Gerard, Pike, 
Hughes, and Cook. Milo joined in the early days and remained 
until the finish, as did Roscoe. They were a lot of fun. The famous 
Avon Comedy Four started around 1900, with Joe Smith, Charlie 
Dale, John Coleman, and Will Lester. When they first started, 
Dale did the Hcbc and Smith did the tough guy; later Joe did the 
Hebe (and a great characterization) and Charlie did Dutch (no- 
body better) , The other half of the four changed many times. Jack 
Godwin was an early replacement and stayed with the quartette 
many years; then great singers like Ecldic Miller, Irving Kaufman, 
Frank Corbctt, Mario, and Lazar all joined the company at dif- 
ferent times. Smith and Dale split the quartette about ten years 
ago and did a two act (as they did when they first started) and 
today are the oldest team in show biz, together fifty-three years 
(but only ten years as a team). The Avon Comedy Four's "School 
Act/' "The Hungarian Rhapsody/' and especially their "Dr. 

Lefty's Letters 

Kronkheit" will long be remembered. (More about them in the 
two-man acts.) 

Who will ever forget the great Empire City Quartette (Harry 
Cooper, his brother Irving, Tally, and Harry Mayo)? Harry did a 
Hebe comic, no make-up except for an oversized derby which he 
kept tipping through the act to imaginary women in the audience, 
saying, "How's the Mommeh?" which became one of the first 
catch lines in vaude (years before "Do you wanna buy a duck?" 
and "Vass you dare, Sharlie?") . The boys had grand voices besides 
making 7 em laugh. 

The Empire Comedy Four (Cunningham, Leonard, Jenny, and 
Roland) were a standard comedy quartette, as were the Arlington 
Comedy Four (Lee, Roberts, Lane, and Manny). Roberts was a 
Negro, and I believe this is the first time a Negro was in a white 
vaude act (outside of pickaninnies). The Manhattan Comedy 
Four had Sam Curtis, and Al Shean (later Gallagher & Shorn, and 
the uncle of the Four Marx Bros.). The Bootblack Comedy Four 
(Weber, Hayes, Elliot, and Adams), the Orpheus Four (Figg, 
Huffer, Hannand, and Ford), the New York Newsboys 7 Quartette 
(who were all Philadelphians, Roland, Killion, McLoskcr, and 
Dugan) these were just a few of the many that were tops. 

Of the straight and great singing quartettes there were THAT 
Quartette (Sylvester, Pringlc, Jones and Morrell), one of the best, 
fine soloists and terrific harmony, and THE Quartette (Webb, 
Corbett, Campbell, and Scanlon; later Geoffrey OTIara and 
Roberts were part of this outfit) . The Big City Four did opera and 
ragtime. The Primrose Four were billed as "1,000 Pounds of 
Harmony"; each man weighed over 250 pounds and could clo away 
with half a keg of beer at a sitting (and did). These were all tops. 
There were many more. Me and Aggie made a list of over three 
hundred quartettes. Many of them billed themselves as "the So 
and So Four' 7 (like Quaker City Four), and there was one act 
called "Worth While Waiting Four!" 

There were more male groups, but there were a few female quar- 
tettes that arc worth mentioning. The Four Haley Sisters, one of 
the first (Grace, Bernicc, Mabel, and Lucille), the Four Cook 
Sisters. THIS Quartette (a name copy of THAT male quartette), 
then another gal outfit called themselves THAT OTHER Quar- 
tette (get the angle?), A-B-C-D Quartette (later changed to the 
Connoly Sisters), the Swedish American Quartette, the Military 


Girls' Quartette, the Four Rubini Sisters (also played instru- 
ments), and a few more. 

Me and Aggie made another list of quartettes amounting to 
over a hundred that billed themselves as "Tours," like the Big City 
Four, and a hundred or more that billed themselves as "Quar- 
tettes/ 7 like the Clipper Quartette. But it's too tough to type out 
all those names; it would read like a directory. There were quar- 
tettes that tried to get away from that kind of billing, like "Nights 
with the Poets," Four Messenger Boys, "Night at the Club/' Four 
Buttercups (all did tramps), Four Entertainers, Yacht Club Boys, 
who introduced special lyrics into quartettes . . . and "Memories," 
a quartette consisting of a doctor, banker, artist, and minister. 

There were "double quartettes/ 7 like the Old Homestead Double 
Quartette, which included Fred Wykoff, Chauncey Olcott, and 
Dick Jose, who later became stars. Spook Minstrels were also a 
double quartette. You just can't stop four guys from singing har- 
mony and near harmony. There is a national organization of 
amateur quartettes that runs into a membership of many thou- 
sands, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of 
Barbershop Singing. 

Now I come to the single chirpers, whose field was as crowded 
as the Singer Midgets in a tiny elevator. Not the great single 
women that sang pop songs or were serio-comics, but the straight 
singers who depended more on their voices than their "catch lines" 
guys and gals who stepped out with good voices, maybe with a 
piano accompanist. It was pretty tough for singers, who depended 
on proper musical accompaniment, to go from town to town trying 
to sing with an orchestra composed of guys who couldn't read 
anything but scales (and there were plenty of them). I'll never 
forget the gal who said to the small-town violinist at rehearsal, 
"You are not a musician. What is your regular job?" And the guy 
with the well-rosined bow looked up and said, "No. I'm the town 
undertaker, but I play to have fun!" 

But Big Time can boast of many great singers in whose throats 
nightingales built their nests. When they got a bit rusty they went 
to the small time, where the audience wrapped 'em in their hearts, 
because they came to them with big reps, and they figured they 
were tops at pop prices. They never heard the "rust" in their voices; 
all they knew was that it was loud and at cheap prices, The small 
time used "tired voices" like the Smiling Irishman sold tired cars! 

Lefty's Letters 78 

There were many great operatic voices on big and small time, 
sopranos, contraltos, tenors, baritones, basses, and intermediates. 
The regular vaude fans didn't go much for the high C 7 s! But these 
acts made many a vaude fan out of opera lovers who started out 
as slurnmers and ended up as steady customers. 

Me and Aggie liked pop singers much better, but figured these 
guys and gals with studied throats gave vaude a sort of high-toned 
touch. When we first met them, we figured they'd pull an "aria" 
on us, but when you got under their scales, they were regs. You 
know, that's why me and Aggie liked vaudeville, for we met all 
kinds of people from all lines of show biz and we didn't resent 'em 
if they had talent. They were just as jealous of our getting laughs 
as we were of their great voices. We each wondered "how they 
do it? 7 ' That was the swell part of vaudeville. Anybody could get 
in it from a guy who could do a time step to a gal who could 
reach high Cl 

There were a lot of Metropolitan Opera stars who exercised their 
tonsils in vaudeville! Grace Cameron was the first to leave opera 
for vaude. Alclrich, Cicolini, Calve, and Gasparrio were others. 
There were also Jenny DuFau, Vinic Daly, Suzanne Adams, Fritxi 
Scheff (who was a vaude hcadlmcr and favorite for many years), 
Scli De Lussan, Josephine Dunfc (prima donna of Gilbert & Sulli- 
van shows), Henry Scotti (one of the greatest), Herman Bisplmn 
(who explained every song), Anna Fitzu, Nanette Guilford, Ade- 
laide Norwood, and Madame Scliumami-IIcink. Vaude in return 
gave opera Mine. Marguerite Sylvia, who worked in vaude in 1894 
for $100 a week and in 1910 was at the Met! There were Dorothy 
Jarclon, Rosa Ponsellc (one of the greatest Carmens) who clicl a 
vaude act with her talented sister Carmella, also later with the 
Met (both discovered by our mutual agent Gene Hughes), John 
Charles Thomas, Orville Harold, and Chief Capolican (an East 
Side Indian), who all went to opera from vaude. 

An odd engagement for an opera singer occurred in 1893 when 
F. F. Proctor engaged Campanini, a great star in those days, to sing 
in the lobby of his Twenty-third Street Theater, Proctor's idea was, 
"When they hear such singing in the lobby for free, you can 
imagine what they must think is on the inside!" 

We had a lot of fine singers in vaucle from musical comedy and 
operetta, like Vera Michclina, Lina Arbarbcnell, Craig Campbell, 
Robert Chisolm, Juliet Dika, David Dugan (a Scotch tenor), Juc 


Fong (a Chinese tenor), Mile. Fregoleska (a Rumanian nightin- 
gale), Harnko Onkui (a Jap prima donna), Princess Lei Lani 
(billed as the McCorniack of Hawaii), Sirota (the Jewish cantor 
of Warsaw), Cantor Rosenblatt (a small man with a large red 
beard who sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" for a finish), 
George Dufranne (a French tenor), George Dewey Washington 
(a great Negro singer), and Sissieretta Jones (better known as the 
Black Patti) . They didn't look down your throat for your color, 
race, or creed in vaude. 

Names come pouring from my memory of our fine singers- 
Grace Fisher, Alice Gentle, Lora Hoffman, Eddie Miller, Grace 
Nelson, Yvette Rugel, Lillian Russell, Olga Steck, John Steel, 
Irving Fisher, Belle Story, Sybil Vane (billed as the Galli-Curci of 
vaude), Estelle Wentworth, Marion Weeks, Manuel Romaine, 
Lee Tung Foo (who sang in Chinese, Irish, and German), Harry 
Mayo (of the famous Empire City Quartette), Muriel Window, 
Madame Flowers (who was known way back in 1898 as the Bronze 
Melba), Jack Allman, Charles Purcell, Allan Rogers, Ruby Norton, 
Charlie Hart, and Olga Cook. 

Irish tenors were sure-fire hits. There were Andrew Mack, 
Thomas Eagan, John McCloskey, Joe Regan, Stephen O'Rourke, 
Tom Burke, Gerald Griffin, Walter McNally, James Dougherty, 
Joseph Griffin, John Fogarty, and the one and only Chauncey 
Olcott! John McCormack was offered a vaucle route, but he asked 
for $25,000 a week, figuring on the basis of fourteen concert dates. 
He didn't get it. Irish tenors had three musts on their program, 
"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," "They Called It Ireland," and 
"Irish Mother Q' Mine/' 

We had many singing doubles and trios, some who accompanied 
themselves with instruments (mostly piano) : the Three Brox 
Sisters, the Three Dolce Sisters, Hahn, Wells & O'Donell (three 
big voices), the Imperial Chinese Trio (a baritone accompanied 
by string instruments), Keller Sisters & Lynch (one of the very first 
to do modern harmony singing), Alexander & Lightner Sisters 
(Winnie Lightner later was a big hit in pics), Sylvester, Jones & 
Pringle (terrific voices). There were dozens of Italian operatic sing- 
ing acts; nearly all of them would sing "Chirabeerabee"; in fact, 
the bookers would describe them as "a bunch of Chirabeerabees." 

The 1900$ brought in a new craze in vaude, "The Rathskeller 
Act," usually consisting of three men, a hot piano player and two 

Lefty's Letters 80 

hot singers. They came from night clubs and cafes. They were full 
of pep, singing fast songs, with maybe a little clowning between 
numbers. They seldom used ballads, as they were too slow. The fast 
tempo of these acts would wake up any kind of an audience and 
get plenty of applause. Even the poor ones were hits. They pepped 
up vaude bills for about ten years and then gradually died out. 
Some trios broke up and became teams or singles. Some of the best 
of that type act were Sherman, Van & Hyman (later Tierncy); 
Stepp, Mehlinger & King; Vardon, Perry & Wilbur; Stepp, Allman & 
King; Corbett, Shepherd & Donovan; Adler, Weill & Herman; Big- 
low, Campbell & Hayden; Dunham, Edwards & Farrcll; Green, Mc- 
Henry & Dean; Hurst, Watts & Hurst; Hedges Bros. & Jacobson; 
Hayden, Borden & Hayden; Medlin, Watts & Towns; Miller, Moore 
& Gardner; Sharkey, Geisler & Lewis (that was Ted Lewis) ; Taylor, 
Kranzman & White; Three White Kuhns; Webcr 7 Beck & Frazcr; 
Weston, Carrol & Fields; Yacht Club Boys (Billy Mann, Jimmy 
Kern, George Kelly, and Charlie Adler) and the one and only and 
greatest of them all, Clayton, Jackson & Durante! What a trio! 

Among the great two-men singing acts were Rome & Dunn, 
Healey & Cross, Freeman & Dunham, Cross & Dunn, and the best 
of all two-men singing acts in show biz, Gus Van & Joe Schcnck 
(Gus today is still one of our greatest dialect singers). 

There were a few straight singing mixed acts, but many of them 
became better known when they put in talk and dancing, so T will 
write about them some other time. Among the greatest chirp teams 
were Whiting & Burt; and Joe E. Howard with his many wife- 
partners, Howard & Ida Emerson, Mabel Barrison, Mabel McCane, 
and Ethelyn Clark. But I'm sure nobody's gonna get mad at me 
and Aggie when we say the greatest man and woman singing act 
was Nora Baycs and Jack Norworth. Nobody has ever touched them 
as to class, diction, looks, harmony, and showmanship! 

These were all honest singers, no microphones. It's a shame that 
the recordings of many of these fine voices don't do them justice, 
because the recording business in those clays wasn't what it is 
today, and most of the records sound tinny. 

But we that heard them in person have wonderful car memories, 

Your pal, 




Dear Joe, 

Out of the hundreds of two-man acts that paraded from the 
honky-tonks to the Palace, there are less than a half a dozen who 
are still active! Olsen & Johnson, Shaw & Lee, Arthur & Puggy 
Havel, Glenn & Jenkins, and Smith & Dale. 

From the beginning of old variety up to the near peak of vaude, 
the two-man "talking" act was usually the comedy standout of the 
bill before the mixed comedy teams took over. I'm talking about 
the two-man acts that depended on talking routines and maybe 
used song, dance, or parody for insurance. There were many that 
did some talking, but really depended on their singing, dancing, and 
even acrobatics for results. 

The original two-man acts were in blackface, and really tried to 
portray the Negro in looks and dialect. They later worked as black- 
face comic and white straight man. The next teams to win favor 
were double Irish, with exaggerated make-ups; later they too began 
working as straight man and Irish comic. Then came the double 
Dutch acts (they called the German acts Dutch); they too fol- 
lowed the trend. There were very few double Hebrew two-man 
acts; usually it was a straight man with a Hebrew comic. 

You will notice that the comic characters followed the pattern 
of our immigration. The last character two-man acts were Italian 
(Clark & Verdi were the first to do this, with Clark doing the 
straight, but in Italian dialect). And let me tell you right now that 
in early variety and vaucle nobody took exception to the billings of 
the different character acts, like "The Sport and the Jew," "Irish 
by Name but Coons by Birth," "The Mick and the Policeman/' 
"The Merry Wop," "Two Funny Sauerkrauts." It was taken in 
good humor by the audience, because that is what everyone called 
each other in everyday life. There were no pressure groups and no 
third generation to feel ashamed of immigrant origins. So when I 
use the original billings, don't blame me; blame your fathers and 

But the two-man act took on a different pattern as immigration 

Lefty's Letters 82 

died down, and the old-time comic stage characters "cleaned up" 
(as did the characters in real life). The comic became an "eccentric 
character/' which meant anything, a guy with a funny make-up, 
baggy pants, big shoes, etc., anything to make sure the audience 
knew he was the comedian. Toward the last days of vaude, the 
comic would just use a funny hat to make him look different than 
the straight man. 

Most of the old-time two-man acts had belly-laugh material. 
Their comedy was broad, physical, and rowdy. They could use gags 
that the mixed act couldn't use. They could get bigger laughs than 
the average single act, because they could feed each other and so 
build up the gags. In early acts the material consisted of what me 
and Aggie call "knick-knacks" song and dance, cross-fire talk of 
unconnected gags, playing musical instruments, and acrobatics. 
They put everything they knew into their acts. Ninety-five per cent 
of them were Irish; later the Germans, Hebrews, and Italians came 
along; and still later the children of all of them, Americans, took 

In the early 19005 the style of the two-man act changed from the 
kick-in-the-belly and spit-out-the-beans type to more rational stuff. 
Instead of both members of the team dressing funny, a distinct 
line was drawn between the comic and straight man. I always liked 
the old gag that's been circulating among show folk for many years. 
It's about the vaude actor waiting in the wings watching the first- 
show, and he sees a fellow "artist" made up with a red nose, blue 
wig, green make-up, teeth blacked out, baggy pants, funny hat, 
loud vest, slap shoes, large checkered coat, and a big heavy watch 
chain. Turning to the stage manager the actor sez, "By the looks 
of that guy, he must be a very funny comedian." And the stage 
manager, very surprised, whispers, "Why, that's the straight mttnl" 

But as I said, in the early 19008 they kinda changed. The straight 
man began to dress in street clothes, if you can call a flashy suit, 
gray derby, two-toned button shoes, and stock tic "street clothes I" 
The comic would wear "funny" misfit suits, etc,, so you couldn't 
mistake him being the comic. And, most important, instead of; 
catch-as-catch-can gags, which the straight man would lead into 

with "By the by, what happened to you at ?" they now 

started to use regular routines and stick to one subject; a few of 
them even had thin plots, like Howard & North in "Those Were 
the Happy Days" and "Back to Wellington" (they were the first 


team to do this type act) . They began to depend more on good 
routines than on funny clothes and mugging. Some even started 
to cut out parodies (which were the insurance of most of the two- 
man acts), and some were even brave enough to walk off on a gag. 
These were very few, because a "big finish" still meant a lot to 
the hookers. A parody was sure-fire, especially one that had double 

The straight man or "feeder" was never really given enough 
credit by audiences, although actors recognized his great contribu- 
tion to the comic. He was as important as the comic to the success 
of the act. A good straight man could make a fair comic look good 
and a great comic look better! A good straight man had to make a 
good appearance, dress well, have sex appeal, and have a good 
speaking and singing voice. They were usually fairly well-educated 
guys who had a good vocabulary (for an actor) and handled the 
business for the act. The comic just had to be funny and was the 
mixer of the team. 

The best straight men in vaude were Ed Gallagher (Gallagher & 
Shean), George LeMaire (Conroy & LeMaire), Jay Brennan 
(Savoy & Brennan), George Walker (Williams & Walker), Frank 
Batie (with Jack Wilson), Dan Quinland (Quinland & Mack), 
Harry Klien (Klien Bros.), Joe Brady (Brady & Mahoney), Ed 
Smith (Smith & Campbell), Val Stanton (Val & Ernie Stanton), 
Paul McCullough (Clark & McCullough), Jack Lewis (Wynn & 
Lewis), Al Lee (Cantor & Lee), Al Lloyd (Aveling & Lloyd), 
Joe Wilton (Wilton & Weber), and more too numerous to 

The two-man acts were a temperamental lot and would often 
change partners. Of course, like in theatrical marriages, there were 
a number of them that stayed together for many years. Teams like 
Fox & Ward (together sixty years), Mclntyre & Heath (sixty-three 
years together), and Smith & Dale (together for fifty-three years 
but only ten years as a two-man act). Others who stuck together 
for many years and were rated as solid two-man acts were Kenny & 
Hollis, Weber & Fields, Hoey & Lee, Kennedy & Platt, Klien Bros., 
Roger Bros., Willie & Eugene Howard, Lewis & Dody, Miller & 
Lyles, Cole & Johnson, Moss & Frye, Hawthorne & Cook, Raymond 
& Cavalry, Otto Bros., Howard & North, Wilson Bros,, Friend & 
Downing, Brady & Mahoney, and many more. Many of them, on 

Lefty's Letters 84 

the death of one partner, never repaitnered, like Bobby Clark, Bert 
Williams, Al Klien, etc. 

Among the many that changed partners for one reason or an- 
other were Mr. Gallagher & Mr. Shean, originally in burly together; 
then it was Shean & Warren, Shean & James Carson, and Gallagher 
& Barrett. Ed Wynn had a lot of straight men; in 1907 it was 
Wynn & Jack Lewis, 1909 Wynn & Al Lee, 1910 Wynn & Pat 
O'Malley Jennings, 1911 Wynn & Russen (who played an Eng- 
lish fop); then Wynn went into musical comedy and didn't need 
any more straight men. Jack Lewis later did straight for Bill Hal- 
ligan. James J. Corbett was one of the best straight men in the busi- 
ness; he had authority, background, and personality. He "scolded" 
many a comic. He was teamed for a few seasons each with Billy B. 
Van, Frank Tinney, Jack Norton (who has made such a big hit on 
TV as a drunk), Neil O'Brien (the great minstrel), and Bobby 
Barry (of the famous Barry family). George LeMaire (Conroy & 
LeMaire) started with his brother Mooney, and also worked with 
Joe Phillips and Eddie Cantor. In the team of Russ Brown and Jim 
Fallon, Russ was a great straight man, but he turned comic in some 
acts, and worked with straight man Harold Whalen. There was a 
guy called Tony Pearl (a swell performer) who had a new partner 
nearly every weekPearl & Tommy Meade (the jockey), Pearl & 
Dan Hyatt, Pearl & Charlie Diamond, Pearl & Yosco, Pearl & Matt 
Keefe, and many, many more. Charlie Mack, who originally started 
with Bert Swor as Swor and Mack, changed to Moran & Mack, and 
then had so many partners that he patented the name of Moran & 
Mack (the Two Black Crows) and used different partners under 
the same trade name; even Bert Swor, his original partner, worked 
in pictures with Mack under the name of "Moran/' 

There were many things that contributed to the breaking up of 
a two-man partnership. Two of the main reasons were woman 
trouble and the bottle. If one of the partners was married or court- 
ing or on the make, the other partner might feel it was only a 
matter of time before he would split the combination and put in 
the wife or sweetheart and have the dough all going in one pocket. 
The bottle broke up many an act, when one or sometimes both 
partners would start using the "nose paint"' too often and too 
heavily. It was a case of getting a rep of being unreliable, one of 
the worst raps in show biz, because now vaudc was out of the 
honky-tonk and variety era and was in the big-money class, Many 


a performer in the old days had a rep with stag audiences as a 
drinking man, who seemed to be funnier on the stage when half- 
lit, and the audience would be disappointed when he came on 
sober. You must remember that before the shows became "family 
style" the audience drank, the stagehands, musicians, and managers 
all drank, so everybody met each other on an even basis, and the 
drunk on the stage wasn't noticed very much. Ill tell you about 
the terrific "staggering talent" some other time. 

Many successful two-man acts stuck together for many years by 
not chumming with each other. Some carried on a "yes-and-no" 
partnership off stage; they just spoke when they had to discuss 
business. They wouldn't live in the same hotel or eat in the same 
restaurants if they could help it. Mclntyre & Heath didn't speak 
to each other off stage for years, Montgomery & Stone carried on 
a "yes-and-no" friendship and weren't mad at each other, but 
Fred Stone was a family man while Dave was a great mixer with 
the gang. The Russell Brothers (the famous Irish Servant Girls) 
never spoke to each other unless it was absolutely necessary (and 
they were actually brothers ) . These are only a few of a long list. 

To offset the no-mix teams, there were many that were insepar- 
able on and off stage. Aveling & Lloyd, Tom & Fred McNaughton, 
Arthur & Fuggy Havel, Wilson Bros., Olsen & Johnson, Kaufman 
Bros., Raymond & Cavalry, Friend & Downing, Kenny & Hollis, 
Shaw & Lee, Savoy & Brennan, Fox & Ward, Gene & Willie 
Howard, Buck & Bubbles, Bill & Gordon Dooley, Otto Bros., Kane & 
Herman, Duffy & Sweeney, Roger Bros., Mack & Orth, Rockwell 
& Wood, Claude & Clarence Stroud, Glenn & Jenkins, Miller & 
Lyles, Weaver Bros., Burns & Kissen, Smith & Dale, Gitz Rice 
and Hal Ford, and the Klien Bros, are just a few examples of the 
ones you would always see together. 

Sometimes one of the partners (usually the comic) would be 
offered a part in a musical comedy if he would split up with his 
partner, but because of loyalty would refuse a great opportunity. 
Jack Kenny (Kenny & Hollis) is a case in point. I personally know 
the many chances he had to become a name in musical comedy, 
but stuck with his partner to the finish. They started in Boston when 
they were very young; Kenny was a barber while Hollis was a 
box-office man. They stayed together until they became managers 
of a New England picture house, and then Hollis passed on. They 
were together for fifty years. 

Lefty $ Letters m 

Other teams split to better themselves, and one or both became 
stars. Eddie Cantor split with Al Lee (Cantor & Lee) to go into his 
first show, Canary Cottage, and later became a star; Al Lee became 
the manager of George White's Scandals and other big shows. 
Willie Howard, after a long partnership with his brother Gene, 
went into a show and starred; Gene became Willie's manager. Will 
Mahoney of Mahoney Bros. & Daisy (Daisy was a dog) split and 
became a headliner. Doc Rockwell, when he split with Al Wood, 
took another partner, Al Fox, then went on his own as a headliner. 
Jack Pearl split with Ben Bard and became a musical-comedy star. 
Phil Baker and Ben Bernie split and both became tops in their own 

The two-man acts were usually a good box-office draw because 
the guys were spenders and joiners who belonged to clubs and fra- 
ternal organizations, mixed with sporting crowds and the town 
businessmen and so built up a following; this usually paid off at the 
box office, which naturally fattened up their pay envelopes and 

In the later years of vaude, when the two-man act was dying 
down, they looked around for gimmicks to pep up their acts. Many 
of them put a wife or sweetheart in the act for just a "bit" -maybe 
a flirtation bit; the gal might do a short specialty like a rumba and 
maybe add a few bumps for good measure, or even do a song or 
dance (if she was talented). This was called putting "class" or 
"sex" in the act; audiences were getting tired of just looking at two 
men. The booking office, who figured they were getting a bargain, 
would add railroad fare for the "extra attraction" to the act's salary 
it made the show look "big"! It got so that when vaudc was 
suffering with arthritis there were so many stooges in the act that 
they should have been billed as "assisted" by the two-man team! 

It is unfair not to mention the really great two-man acts that 
handed out so many laughs, but if I did, it would take more pages 
than are in Congress. But you certainly must find room for guys 
like Lydell & Higgins, Morris & Allen, Dave Ross & Nat Bernard, 
Orth & Fern, Smith & Campbell, Cole & Snyder, Kolb & Dill, Kane 
& Herman, Seed & Austin, Rome & Gault, York & Adams, Adams & 
Ghul, Anthony & Rogers, Bixley & Lemer, Carson & Willard, Crane 
Bros., Flanagan & Edwards, Kramer & Morton, Burns & Fabrito (re- 
member them? "I think you touch," when the straight man busted 
the balloons), Hawthorne & Burt, Bailey & Austin, Al Fields & Dave 


Lewis, Hussey & Boyle, Collins & Peterson, Stuart & Lash, Burns & 
Kissen, Swor & Avery, Waldron Bros., Webb & Burns, Weaver 
Bros., the original Brutal Bros. (Geo. Cunningham & Fred Bula 
Grant), who would commit mayhem on each other, and Howard 
& Shelton, who walked right into radio and TV. 

And so the old-time two-man talking act is gone, but the mem- 
ory lingers on of the comics with baggy pants and big shoes. But 
what me and Aggie remember most is the straight man, who fig- 
ured he was a lady killer, the "scolder," as we called 7 em, because 
he scolded the comics with such lines as 'Tin ashamed of you- 
what you did when I introduced you to that lovely lady. . . ." He 
was a "cuff shooter" (he would pull down his near-clean cuff after 
each gag) . We remember how he would straighten his stock tie, 
and hit the comic with his gloves (which was more refined than 
hitting him with a newspaper) . And while he was singing his ballad 
(usually in the middle of the act), he would look around the audi- 
ence to see what "town gal" he could flirt with or date up. And 
how he would glance toward the entrance during the act to see 
how the "single woman" on the bill was taking it! Actors would 
call the matinee-idol-type straight man "brassiere busters" be- 
cause one time a straight man came off and remarked, "Did you 
hear that noise when I came on? That was brassieres busting." IVe 
met some of these old-time straight men lately, and believe me, 
they couldn't bust a penny balloon with a hatpin. 

No longer do we hear them pan each other to the actors on the 
bill, saying, "My partner is holding me back." . . . Yep, the old- 
time two-man act is. gone and so is their hangout vaudeville! 

Your pal y 


She-He's and He-She's 

Dear Joe, 

Female impersonators started way back in what the professors 
call the "Greek drama/' when women were not allowed to play in 
public. The same rule was in force during Bill Shakespeare's time, 

Lefty's Letters M 

and many actors became famous in those days playing "dame 

In America we date the female impersonators from our minstrel 
shows, which, as you know, had all-male casts (except, of course, 
the female minstrels which came later). In the blackface after- 
pieces, the head comic would usually do a "wench." There was 
always a great wench part in every minstrel show, and nearly all 
great minstrel comics played a wench at some time in their careers. 

The late Francis Wilson (first president of Equity) was one of 
the first to do a wench in variety as a member of the team of 
Mackin & Wilson. He was followed by such greats as Mclntyre & 
Heath, Neil O'Brien, Bert Swor, and George "Honey Boy 7 ' Evans. 
George M. Cohan's dad (Jerry) did a wench in one of their early 

In the late '8os the top female imps around were Leon (Kelly & 
Leon), William Henry Rice, Charles Hey wood, Lind?, and Harry 
Le Clair (the latter was the top female imp of that time and was 
billed as the "Sarah Bernhardt of vaudeville." The old-time imps 
were built kinda heavy for that line of work; Richard Harlow, 
George Richards (a fine toe dancer), and Harry Le Clair all 
weighed over 150 pounds. 

There were many female imps in the honky-tonks and wine 
rooms working the boxes as hostesses and entertainers never re- 
moving their wigs. Many years later during the tab show era in 
vaude there was a shortage of chorus girls, and a number of male 
chorus gals were recruited; there were a lot of surprised guys wait- 
ing at the stage door for the gal they saw in the show, because 
"she" would never show up. In 1840 there was a "Miss Smith" 
who was a top ballerina and was really a man! Not so many years 
ago Arico Wild, one of the few famous fern imps who is still work- 
ing, did a dance in the Fokin Ballet. 

When Tony Pastor made variety shows an entertainment for 
women and children, the ''bitchy types" toned their routines and 
make-ups away down to respectability and some became very fine 
comedians, or should I say comediennes? Many of the early female 
imps went in for comedy and naturally clicln't bother about clothes, 
make-up, or class. The famous Russell Bros. (John & James) did 
two Irish biddies; their act was billed ''Our Irish Servant Girls" 
and was the greatest comedy act of all the fern imps of their time. 
Johnny Russell died in 1925, His son James was an undertaker in 


Elmhurst, Long Island. James wrote "Where the River Shannon 
Flows" (some others have also claimed to have written it). After 
the death of Johnny, Jimmy took Bert Savoy and taught him the 
tricks of the craft, and when he retired Bert went with Jay Brennan 
and they did an act on the lines of the Russell Bros., but not a 
copy; it was modernized. Bert Savoy did a character somewhat like 
Russell, only, instead of a biddy, he did an overdressed trollop. 
Savoy & Brennan were the tops of all fern imp comedy acts. 

George Munroe did a great "Bridget" monologue, telling all 
about his "Aunt Bridget." Dave Warfield did a biddy with Weber 
& Fields (but never in vaude) . Harry Bulger did a blond soubrette 
number, Wilkie Bard did a swell old dame (many English comics 
did dames in the pantomimes at Christmas -and very funny too) r 
Charlie Harris did an eccentric woman, Harry Leybourne (English- 
man) did a pianologue and changed dresses very fast. J. C. Mack 
did one of the funniest German housewives I have ever seen. A few 
tried to copy him, but they couldn't even touch the hem of his 

When Keith jacked up vaude standards, the old-time biddies 
and wenches gave way to the "classy" female impersonators. Lind? y 
"The Male Melba," and Stuart, "The Male Patti," had real fine 
voices. The Great Richards was a fine toe dancer and soubrette. 
Alvora was another fine toe dancer, as were George East, Allyn 
Mann, and Bayes. The female imps did other things than just sing. 
Thora and Lydia Dreams were fine ventriloquists, Marnello did a 
pianologue, Havania did quick changes and balanced on tables and 
chairs. There were a few that went in for big productions, singing 
and dancing acts, like Bothwell Brown, who did "Cleopatra" and 
"The Plantation Gal," and Cleveland Bonner, who also went in for 
big dancing-act productions. They were all fine headliners for years. 

Another great headliner in the heydey of vaude was the late 
Karyl Norman, who as "The Creole Fashion Plate" made up as a 
"high-yaller" gal and was great. In 1925 he received a sixty-week 
route from the Orpheum Circuit, the longest route ever issued on 
that circuit. He played at least two weeks in each house, four in 
Frisco, five in Chicago, three in St. Louis, and full weeks in 
Orpheum Juniors, changing his act when playing two or more 
weeks in a house. He was the only one that ever did this, not only 
among the female imps, but of any kind of act. 

There were many more fine artists, like McGarvey, Vardman, 

Lefty's Letters 90 

Taciano, Max Waldron, Eugene Pippin, Archie Guerine (a Chi- 
cago lawyer), Saona, Russell Bingham, Herbert Charles, Bisceaux, 
Divine Dodson, Love & Haight, Yarick & Yolanda, and Jackie May. 

Those who went in for comedy were Malcolm Scott (an Eng- 
lishman), Francis, who did an eccentric woman, as did Olin 
Landick, who talked about his "Cousin Cassey" and made a big 
hit on radio. Alfred Letine was swell, but the tops of all the single 
comedy fern imps were James Watts, Bert Enrol, and Herbert 

The comedy teams where one did straight while the other did a 
comedy dame were of course headed by the incomparable Bert 
Savoy & Jay Brennan (later Brennan & Rogers and even Lou 
Holtz did straight for Jay when he took over the comedy end of 
the act). Bert Savoy was killed by lightning while walking with 
Jack Haley at Long Beach. (When the great wit William Collier 
heard about this, he said, "I hear that all the female impersonators 
are now carrying lightning rods/') Mclntyre & Heath in their skit, 
"Waiting at the Church/' did a real funny wench bride. Yates & 
Wheeler were also a good comedy team. Many two-man acts would 
use a comedy burlesque dame for a "yok" finish, but were not fcm 
imps in the true sense of the word. Among these were Bcdini & 
Arthur, Jack Wilson, Bixley & Lerner, George Lyons & Eddie Parks, 
Miller & Mack, Dale & Boyle, Bowman Bros., Alexander & Scot* 
(Scott really did a beautiful high yaller), and even George Jcsscl 
put on a skirt for a finish once! It was all sure-fire stuff. 

There were a number of "trick" female impersonators in vaudc, 
Ray Monde came on as a woman, at the finish of the act he re- 
moved his wig and showed that he was a man, then for an encore 
he removed another wig and showed long beautiful hair like a 
woman's. The audience was left guessing. Fagg & White, a man 
and woman act, with the man doing the "woman/' did a switch on 
Ray Monde he would take off one wig to show he was a woman, 
then take off another one to show he was a man , . . Some switch, 
eh? Did you know that the wonderful dancing act, the Mosconi 
Bros., started their dancing careers with Charlie doing a "dame" 
partner in a waltz number with his brother Louis? ( If you want a 
punch in the nose, mention this to Charlie.) The late Lew Lchr 
(of "Monkeys are the cwazicst people" fame) did a burlesque gal 
in his vaude act. The straight act of the Musical Berrcns had 
one of the boys doing a gal for no reason at all In many aerobatic 


troupes there were one or two of the boys made up as gals, to 
make the tricks look harder or to remove the "too many men" 
curse for booking purposes. These people never took off their wigs. 

The majority of the fem imps went in for real impersonation, 
fooling (or trying to fool) the audience with their wonderful 
make-up, clothes, demeanor, voice, and mannerisms. In the major- 
ity of cases the audience would never know or even guess it wasn't 
a woman until at the end of the act "she" would remove her wig 
to a big Ahh! from the audience (those who had never seen it 
before). He would thank the audience in a deep bass voice, stick 
out his chest, and walk off stage real mannish. These fem imps had 
a great draw at the box office. Women would come in to see them 
not so much for their talent as for the clothes and millinery they 
wore, to copy their really "advanced" styles. 

Many of these guys had wives and families. Those who carried 
dressers to help them with their many changes would have women 
dressers. Funny? It was necessary in order to have the "woman 
touch" in their dressing, and also for the mending and sewing of 
new costumes. Some carried their wives for this job and a few even 
had their mothers dress them. The real good female imps were cer- 
tainly not to be classed with "freak acts," because they had talent, 
fine voices, a sense of humor, and were good dancers and experts in 
the art of make-up. Many of them started via "college shows" 
where they played the parts of dames. After World War I there 
were plenty of fem imps in vaude. Service acts were partly respon- 
sible. At a Middle Western naval station during the war, a call was 
issued for volunteers for "chorus girls" for the show they were put- 
ting on . . . 125 responded. 

Even if you're a kid, you must have heard your dad or mom talk 
about the late and great Julian Eltinge, the greatest of all female 
impersonators past, present and even future 1 His make-up, ward- 
robe, dancing, artistic ability, and songs were never offensive. It was 
true art. He was one of the very few, in fact the only one me and 
Aggie ever knew, who made (and lost) fortunes as a female imper- 
sonator. He headlined for years in vaude, became a star on Broad- 
way and in pictures, and traveled with his own show all over the 
world. Eltinge was the only female imp (or any other kind of an 
imp) that had a theater named after him. Al Woods renamed the 
old Chandler on West Forty-second Street the Eltinge Theatre 
(now an office building) . 

Lefty's Letters 92 

One of the reasons for Eltinge's great success (besides his talent) 
was a press stunt that was pulled when he first went into vaude 
after leaving college. It set him right with the public, who were a 
bit suspicious of female impersonators (especially the men in the 
audience). He was presold as a real honest he-man by a staged 
rough-and-tumble fight in a Forty-second Street and Ninth Avenue 
saloon, where he cleaned out the joint of tough characters because 
someone made a remark about female impersonators being 
"nances/' The papers gave it plenty of front-paging. It was the first 
time that a fern imp had hit anyone instead of scratching 7 em. The 
papers told what a great boxer Eltinge was in college, and that 
meant that he was a real man (anyone who could box or fight in 
those days was a real man). This publicity followed him wherever 
he went and kept him from being heckled throughout his career, 
because the average heckler is afraid of a punch in the nose! Eltinge 
was a well-educated gentleman and fine company, and actors liked 
him a lot. To have seen Eltinge (who was a pretty heavy guy) in a 
woman's bathing suit, evening gown, as the "Brinkley Girl," doing 
his "Incense Dance/' or hearing him sing in his low sweet voice 
was something to remember as long as you lived. He was real talent, 
which he proved when he broke box-office records in vaude and 
pic houses. 

Me and Aggie were thinking that since Etienne Giradot put on 
skirts in Charley's Aunt (over fifty years ago), many guys have 
followed suit, like Syd Chaplin in silent pics, Jack Benny in talkies, 
Jose Ferrer on the stage, and Ray Bolger in the musical comedy 
version. It must be fun putting on "drag" for that kind of dough! 

When vaude died, the female imps went back to the equivalent 
of the honky-tonks where they started. They worked in New York's 
Greenwich Village joints, and a few "odd spots" around the coun- 
try where the law winked. Of all the great female impersonators of 
two-a-day vaude, there is only one left, Frances Renault". Although 
he is now in another business and doing very well, he stages an 
annual recital at Carnegie Hall, where many of his old-time vaude 
friends appear with him as a sort of get-together. It gives Frances a 
chance to get the moth-ball smell out of his famous feathered 
wardrobe (he was known in vaude for his fine aigrettes, ostrich 
plumes, etc.). He had a pic in Variety showing him with Harry 
Bright (a fighter, who was a featherweight contender); the pic 
showed Bright on the canvas taking the count, and underneath it 


said, "Nothing ladylike about this." A page out of Eltinge's book, 
but it didn't work as well. Some of the many fern imps of vaude 
became famous designers, milliners, dressmakers, hairdressers, and 
some went to Hollywood where they are doing very well. Me and 
Aggie never heard of 'em going back to blacksmithing, but after all 
we are living in an automobile age! 

They were nice guys, those "dames"! 

And now for the He-She's! 

The male impersonators didn't have any reason to "break out," 
like the fern imps did! With them it was just a case of trying to be 
a little different and add novelty to their performances. In England 
they had gals play "boy" parts long before us, in their Christmas 
pantomimes. We had sort of male impersonators in burlesque, if 
you can call a gal that appeared in a man's jacket and tights a male 
imp. These parts were usually played by the leading ladies as an 
excuse to show off their gams, and the majority of them had good 

It was in the early '90$ that the male imps really started to give 
an honest impersonation. The gals with the fine shapes naturally 
showed off men's clothes in a way that no man ever could. They 
looked like men would have loved to look, as to the fit of their 
clothes but in spite of it, most of the male imps looked like 
women. There was a gal by the name of Lillie Western who did a 
musical act in the 'gos dressed as a man. It was a kind of novelty. 
She played all kinds of instruments, and played 'em like a woman 
dressed in men's clothes. So what? Ella Wesner sang English 
music-hall ditties and did monologues, and was headlined on Tony 
Pastor's first show. She did one routine about falling asleep in a 
barbershop, another of a drunk and very clever. Kitty Bingham, 
who dressed in evening clothes, also did music-hall songs copied 
from the English. In the '905 there were also Georgia Marsh, 
Louise Elliott, and Vivian Wood, who were all very good. 

But it took a little English gal by the name of Vesta Tilley to 
really get the American audiences off their nut about male imper- 
sonators. When she sang "Dear Boy, Ta Ta," "Only a Chappie," 
and "The Eton Boy," you just felt like going up on the stage and 
kissing her (of course knowing all the time she was a gal). She 
was the Julian Eltinge of the male impersonators! Her hit in Amer- 
ica opened up the gates to all the other male imps. The men's 
tailor shops were jammed with "wanna-be Tilleys." Men ordered 

Lefty's Letters ** 

the exact copies of Vesta Tilley's clothes, and wondered why they 
didn't fit them like they fit Tilley. There was another gal, Claire 
Romaine, "billed as "London's Pet Boy/' who was very good; she 
was sort of an American relation, because she was the stepsister of 
Dorothy Russell, her father, Ted Solomon, being Lillian Russell's 
first hubby! 

To pay back England for Vesta Tilley, we sent a little Baltimore 
gal to London. Her name was Ella Shields! She went to England in 
1904 and sang "coon" songs in skirts and was a big hit. It was in 
1910 that she first did her male impersonation, at the Palladium, 
where she became one of the greatest hits of that famous theater. 
Her ex-husband wrote a song for her called "Burlington Bertie from 
Bow/' which remained her insurance until her death. She came 
back to America and played all the Big Time as an English artist. 
She later played the small time and when things got rough in 
vaude played some night clubs (where they gave her perfect atten- 
tionwhich was a great compliment, if you know New York night 
clubs), At a get-together at the Palace in New York (to boost a 
pic) 7 I called on Ella, and she walked down the aisle and sang 
"Burlington Bertie" (with Benny Roberts and his gang faking it 
in the pit), and she received a tremendous ovation. She went back 
to London in 1951 and that loyal audience received her as always, 
as a great artist and headliner. ( Me and Aggie love those English 
for their loyalty.) On August 3, 1952, while appearing at a Sunday 
variety concert at a Lancashire seacoast resort, she had just finished 
her favorite song when she collapsed with a heart attack. Her last 
words were, "Thank God, I didn't let 'em down. I got through with 
'Burlington Bertie/" She went "upstairs" August 5, 1952. A fine 
artist and a great gal. 

We had other fine artists besides Ella. Kathleen Clifford, Agnes 
Mahr, the "American Tommy Atkins/' Eva Mudge, the famous 
"Military Maid/' who did a soldier, Jean Southern, Hetty Urma, 
Toma Hanlon (both really great) , Winnie Crawford, Tillie Santoy, 
Truly Shattuck, and one of the pioneers and the best of the old- 
timers, Delia Fox. Eva Prout, Lucille Tilton, Ann Clifford, who 
had a double voice, Celia Galley, who sang her songs in French, 
Emma Don, and Nellie Coleman were all fine English artists, 

We also had some mixed teams where the female member did a 
male imp, like Roy Cummings & Helen Gladying and Donahue & 


Stewart (the great Jack Donahue); his wife did the comedy 
dressed as an eccentric male in their first act. 

Ed Fennel & Lena Tyson (she did the boy), Inge & Farrel, and 
Parrel & Bartlett were some of the acts where the females did the 
male imps. 

Sister acts like Tempest & Sunshine (Tempest did a swell boy), 
Mollie & Nellie King (Mollie did the boy) , Adele Ferguson & Edna 
Northlane, and the Armstrong Sisters were some of the others, 
and in the Moore & Young act they both changed to male clothes 
for a finish. 

Hetty King was in the same class as Vesta Tilley; she did a sailor, 
and when she sang "I'm Going Away/' you just didn't want to let 
her. In the last twenty years of the Big Time, there was a little gal 
who without a doubt was the real American Vesta Tilley Kitty 
Doner, who retired when the Big Time stopped, because she was 
Big Time! There were a couple of gals by the name of Grace 
Leonard and Lillian Schriber who took the billing of the "pocket 
edition of Vesta Tilley/ 7 but, although they were good, none of 
them deserved that billing but Kitty Doner! By the way, did you 
know that Fanny Brice did a male imp number in white tie and 
tails and finished with a good buck dance? Mae West at one time 
did a boy in her act. Can you imagine Mae doing a boy? I mean as 
an impersonation? She found out that doing a gal paid off much 

The only male impersonator left today is the very clever Florrie 
LaVerc, who played all the Big Time and who is still playing what 
is left of vaude, TV and club dates, with her composer-pianist 
husband, Lou Handman. 

There is a reason for the passing of the male impersonator. It 
ceased to be a novelty to see a swell-shaped gal wearing men's 
clothes, when all kinds and shapes of gals started walking around 
the streets in slacks; the way some of them looked in pants, they 
looked like neither men nor women! 

But they were nice dames, those "guys"! SEZ 

Yoi/r pal, 


Lefty's Letters 


Dear Joe, 

Did that "Transfigurator" billing get you? Well, it sent me and 
Aggie to a guy by the name of Webster who knows more about 
words than Henry Mencken, and that's knowing words. Webster 
in his book sez that transfigurator means: "The act of transfiguring, 
or the state of being transfigured, a change of appearance or form; 
especially to give an exalted meaning or glorified appearance, to 
make glorious, idealize, etc." Well, this guy Webster was a smart 
cookie; he must have been, to just put a lot of words down without 
trying to make a story out of them. Anyway, regardless of what he 
sez, a transfigurator to me and Aggie meant a "protean" or "quick- 
change" artist, 

In 1878 the Family Story Paper published a novelette called 
"Mansfield the Metamorfosis." And thirty-five years later Charles 
T. Aldrich and a few more added a t at the end and used it as 
billing instead of protean or transfigurator, because it sounded 
more mysterious. Anyway, there were very few of them in vaucle, 
maybe it was because it was a tough act to copy. Besides requiring 
a good actor, it took a lot of time and patience to figure out the 
quick changes. My old friend Owen McGivncy once told me that 
it took him sometimes a year to just "break in" a coat; he would 
put it on and take it off maybe 100 times a day before he ever used 
it in his act. The clothes had to be kept in perfect repair, linings, 
etc., had to be perfect, because a tear or a loose sleeve could spoil 
the whole timing of an act! 

There is a difference between protean acts and quick-change acts. 
The latter just make quick changes with maybe a few words of talk, 
no plot, while the protean acts did a regular sketch with plot, and 
one man or woman would play all the characters. Sometimes they 
had an assistant to say a few words, not only to cover up the quick 
change but to further the plot, but there were very few of these. 
Of course a few covered up bad acting with quick changes. The 
sketches protean actors used were just fair, as the main interest 
was how fast they made the different changes. 


The protean act was the first of the one-man (or woman) shows. 
In 1873 G. Swayne Buckley retired from minstrels and gave a pro- 
tean show, "On the Track," in which he played eight different 
characters, ten musical instruments, sang twelve songs, and danced 
six dances. Robert Fulgora was one of the first of the American 
protean artists and was the first to use the billing, "Transfigurator." 
He also did a quick-change act, opening in street clothes and in full 
view of the audience making ten changes in costume, leaving the 
stage dressed in women's clothes; in less than five seconds he reap- 
peared in full evening clothes. About 1895 there was in France one 
of the greatest protean actors, Leopold Fregoli, who gave the entire 
opera, Faust, running one hour and a half. He came to America in 
1906 and when he died his wife, Mme. Fregoli, did her husband's 

Some more early protean acts were Harry Le Clair & Edward 
Leslie, who were protean and burlesque artists in an act called 
"Cleopatra up to Now." Miss Johnstone Bennett & S. Miller Kent 
did a sketch, "A Quiet Evening at Home" (this act was formerly 
done by Mrs. Barney Williams), in which Miss Bennett played 
five different characters. In 1904 Charles T. Aldrich, who could 
and did do most everything from fine juggling to fine acting, was 
billed as the "American Fregoli." Roland West did a protean act 
called "The Criminal" (he later became a Hollywood producer). 
In 1909 Charlotte Parry did "Into the Light," in which she played 
the part of an Italian woman in a courtroom. She was accused of 
murder and she played the parts of all the witnesses she finally 
got the chair (not for her acting). Her next act was "The Corn- 
stock Mystery," in which she played seven characters. She played 
this act both here and abroad and finally retired when she married 
"Jolo," the Variety rep in London for many years. 

One of the real pioneers and great protean acts in vaude were 
two fine Belasco actors, Nick Long & Idaleen Cotton. They did 
many acts, but "My Wife's Diamonds" and "The Banker and the 
Thief" were the best. Idaleen would do ten or more characters. 
Margaret Wycherly, a fine actress, did an act called "In Self 
Defence," with which she headlined the Big Time for many years. 

R. A. Roberts, the noted English protean artist, was a sensation 
here with his act, "Dick Turpin." He later did an act, "Cruel 
Coppinger," which was good, too, but never as much of a hit. An- 
other big hit was Henri Du Vries in an act, "Who Is Guilty?" 

Lefty 's Letters 9 

(This was first done by a Dutch actor, Theodore Boumustin, in 
Holland.) There was an Italian, who billed himself as "Ugo 
Beondi," who made his changes so fast that the audience claimed 
he had a twin brother, and it crabbed his act. He was really great. 
Arthur Bernardi was one of the first to use a transparent set, so you 
could see how he made his changes. They all used this idea after 
going around the circuit a few times; it sort of created new interest. 

H. V. Fitzgerald, Hal Stevens in "Reveries/' Robert Hildreth in 
"A Four Leaf Clover," Errol in "Self-Judged/' Richard Keane, and 
Mark Linder all did protean acts. Norton & Russell did a quick- 
change act, and in 1908 there was an eighteeen-year-old Italian gal 
by the name of Fatima Niris who was a quick-change artist doing 
about fifteen characters. And about that time there was a Herr 
Jansen who did his act in German. 

There were many acts around who were doing impersonations of 
famous musicians by putting on wigs, etc. These were not classed 
as protean or quick-change acts. Hymack was really one of the 
greats of quick-change artists. While he delivered a funny mono- 
logue, the color of his gloves, tie, and boutonniere would change 
right in front of the audience. Nobody ever did this act after 
Hymack died. "Doc" Baker in a flash act called "Flashes" did very 
quick changes. 

Caesar Rivoli, a Frenchman, was in Fregoli's class and headlined 
for many years. Laura Buckley did a monologue-type protean act. 
It was in 1922 that Owen McGivney came to America with his 
protean act, "Bill Sykes." He was a terrific hit. He also would do a 
burlesque with other members of the bill called "The Wager/' 
which was very funny. He too later used a transparent scene. He 
headlined the big and small time for many years, even into TV, 
where he appeared recently. 

It was nice of England sending Owen McGivney to us. lie has 
not only outlasted all the other protean acts in America, but also 
has outlasted vaudeville! SEZ 

Your pal, 




Dear Joe, 

Mimicry was started by monkeys and parrots and then taken up 
by humans making faces or using somebody else's voice or manner- 
isms. When a kid went to the theater and came back doing an 
imitation of an actor, as long as he had one or two of the character- 
istics of the originala gesture, a voice, a look it would pass with 
his parents and relatives for genius, and he was on his way to open 
the stage door mimicry was the skeleton key! 

I don't believe there ever was an actor who when starting on his 
career didn't copy some other actor whom he set up as his idol and 
model. This was especially true of vaude. Beginners would first 
copy their idol's voice and mannerisms and in the majority of cases 
even take his material! It was the simplest way to get into show 
biz with a ready-made act! Many of them, as they became better, 
dropped more and more of the things they had copied and replaced 
them with their own material and personality. Soon they were on 
the road to a silk-lined living, being imitated by others! Some just 
stuck to the regular "impressions" and went through show biz 
getting by. Those two words, "getting by, 7> are chloroform to the 
mediocre actor. One who is willing just to get by is a "static" 

It was harder for the old-time impressionists to mimic anyone, 
because they didn't have the help of that magic hunk of invention, 
the microphone. The "impression" as to voice had to be pretty 
true. A mike can make a mimic out of almost anyone (and has); 
it gives a certain quality to a voice that doesn't sound anything like 
the original if done without a microphone. 

There never was a shortage of mimics in vaude. Among the tops 
were Cecilia Loftus (who got $2,000 a week way back in 3 007), 
Elsie Janis, Gertrude Hoffman, Ina Claire, Juliet, La Petite 
Mignon, Eugene Fougere, Jeanne Eagles, Edna Luby, Edna Aug, La 
Belle Blanche, Clarice Mayne (English), Chagnon, Venita Gould, 
and Sibylla Bowhan (who I believe has played to more GIs than 
any other gal, remaining with the USO since its beginning; she has 

Lefty's Letters WO 

played in all countries and on every front) . Most of these acts used 
their own material, but in the style of the person they were imitating. 

The men mimics were Julius Tannen, who did a great Cohan 
and Hitchcock, Taylor Holmes, who did Richard Mansfield, and 
Georgie Price, who did Jolson and Jessel. Willie Howard did a 
swell Jack Norworth singing "Smarty." Nat Goodwin started as a 
mimic, as did Willie Weston, Sydney Grant, and others. Some oF 
the boys and gals graduated to stardom in legit and musical com- 
edy, but only when they replaced mimicry with originality. 

One formula (mostly with the woman mimics) was to sing a 
popular song straight and then sing it like different stars would. 
Of course the easiest approach is the one still being used: "I was at 
a party last night and all the stars were there. When they asked 
Ethel Barrymore to do something she sounded something like 
this . . ." and into the imitation. The mimic of today has a wider 
field to choose from among the personalities of stage, screen, radio, 
and politics. 

One of the most imitated performers years ago was George M. 
Cohan, who was the rage in America for many years. Anyone who 
could remember the words of "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy," sing 
through his nose, and drop one side of his mouth did a Cohan 
imitation. Bobby Barry (who was practically his understudy), 
Johnny Stanley, Julius Tannen, Sydney Grant, Charlie King, and 
Seymour Felix among the men, and Elsie Janis, Gertrude Hoffman, 
Juliet, and La Belle Blanche among the women, all did fine imita- 
tions of George M. But Dave Mallen was the greatest of them all. 
He started in show biz with an imitation of Cohan and for forty 
years practically lived "George M." in talk and mannerisms; he 
knew all his songs, played his parts in revivals, etc, George M,, 
after seeing him at a Friars shindig, turned to me and said, "I never 
was that good." A great compliment from a great guy. 

It was only last year that Mallen met George M. Cohan, Jr., for 
the first time. They had a long chat at the bar of the Lambs about 
the "old man," and when Mallen left young Cohan turned to Mike 
the bartender and said (in a typical Cohan manner), 'lie's a great 
little guy, that Davey Mallen, a great little guy, but he does my old 
man from the wrong side of his mouth." Most everyone believed 
that George M. sang from the side of his mouth with the corner 
dropped down a bit as an affectation, but the truth was that as a 


kid he was hit with a baseball on the mouth and a few stitches 
had to be taken and it left a bit of a droop to it. 

A close runner-up to Cohan among the imitators was David 
Warfield. When he made his great hit in The Music Master, 
anybody who could beat his breast with his hands and say, "If you 
dun't vant her, I vant her/' did an imitation of Warfield. Alexan- 
der Carr was the greatest in this field. Then Al Jolson started a 
couple of generations imitating him. All you had to do was to get 
down on one knee and yell "Mammy!" At one time when the 
Shuberts were having contract trouble with him they had five actors 
rehearsing to replace him: George Jessel, Harry Wardell, Lou 
Holtz, Georgie Price, and Buddy Doyle. (They found out you just 
couldn't replace Jolson by rehearsing people.) All of them made 
good on their own. 

Eddie Foy, Sr. 7 had thousands of imitators, but best of them all 
are Charlie Foy and Eddie, Jr. Ethel Barrymore, with her famous 
line, "That's all there is, there isn't any more," was a cinch for 
nearly everybody to mimic. Vesta Victoria was copied singing 
"Waiting at the Church"; just a bum bridal veil and a faded bunch 
of flowers were an excuse to use that great song in the guise of an 
imitation. Bert Williams 7 pantomime poker game and his song, 
"Nobody," were attempted by everybody. Anna Held singing "I Just 
Can't Make My Eyes Behave" was done by every female mimic 
that had eyes! Another favorite was George Beban reciting his 
poem, "In the Sign of the Rose/ 7 yelling "Rosa, Rosa!" Eddie 
Leonard, the great minstrel, had all of them (including Al Schacht, 
the "Clown Prince of Baseball") singing his famous songs, "Ida" 
and "Roley Boley Eyes." Florence Moore did an excellent imita- 
tion of him. Irene Franklin had to stop the mimics from doing her 
famous song, "Red Head/' by law, as they were not even announc- 
ing that they were doing Irene Franklin. 

Eva Tanguay was imitated by many gals who couldn't even say, 
"I Don't Care." At one time there was an epidemic of Teddy 
Roosevelt imitations which consisted of showing the teeth in a 
broad smile and saying, "Deelighted!" Anyone who could wave a 
large picture hat while singing announced it as an imitation of 
Grace La Rue. Other stock imitations were of Fritzi Scheff singing 
"Kiss Me Again/' Blanche Ring singing "Rings on My Fingers," 
Bessie McCoy singing "Yama Yama Man," and Jack Norworth 
singing "Smarty" (Willie Howard did this almost as well as Jack). 

Lefty's Letters 102 

As for dance imitations, I must bunch Joe Frisco's jazz dance 
with cigar and derby and Pat Roone/s waltz clog while singing 
"Daughter of Rosie O'Grady" as the most imitated. (Pat, Jr., was 
weaned on that dance and does it the best.) Many tried to imitate 
Bill "Bo jangles" Robinson's stair dance, but it was a bit too tough. 
Many copied Harland Dixon's original trick of raising the shoul- 
ders while doing a step, Bunny Granville's "drunk" dance, Will 
Mahoney's "falling down" dance, and there were thousands of 
imitations of Moran & Mack (the Two Black Crows). And any- 
body who had a battered high hat at home tried to imitate Ted 
Lewis saying, "Is everybody happy?" Jim Barton's "mad dog story" 
and Ben Bernie's famous "Yowza, yowza" were favorites, and no 
act was an act unless you did Cantor singing "If You Knew Susie/' 
Buddy Doyle and Milton Berle did very good imitations of Eddie. 
Imitations of Frank Tinney telling gags to the leader, Bert Fitz- 
gibbons "breaking" the footlights, Vesta Tilley singing "Following 
in My Father's Footsteps/' Laddie Cliff's style of dancing, Bee 
Palmer and Gilda Gray's shimmy dance, Clifton Crawford reciting 
"Gunga Din," and the Duncan Sisters' harmony singing were 

All you needed for doing Fanny Brice (so they thought) was to 
wear a short black dress, lean against a lamppost smoking a ciga- 
rette with a baby spot on you, and sing "My Man/' Montgomery & 
Stone's famous scarecrow dance and Weber & Fields' choking 
scene were done a lot. Then came the hordes of "Boop-a-doopers" 
imitating the great little Helen Kane. Maurice Chevalier had every 
kid putting on a straw hat, sticking out his lower lip, and singing 
"Mimi." George Givot was one of the best on this one. Helen 
Morgan had a host of imitators singing "Bill"; Joe Frisco did the 
funniest satire on this that was ever done. Gcorgic Price and Willie 
Howard were really great mimicking George Jcsscl singing "My 
Mother's Eyes" (off key) . Will Rogers was a cinch for anyone who 
could put on a Western hat, chew gum, and say, "All I know is 
what I read in the papers" (from then on they were lost) . 

I believe that the most imitated men in the world were Harry 
Lander, Charlie Chaplin, Gallagher & Shcan, and Jimmy Durantcl 
Just try and find me a guy who hasn't tried to sing "She Is My 
Daisy" with a burr; they ran Charlie Chaplin contests all over the 
world; and there were so many imitations of Gallagher & Shcan 
that the Keith office had to issue a rule that there would be only 


one on a bill! And of course as for the great Schnozzola, Jimmy 
Durante there's millions of f eml (Eddie Garr was the first mimic 
to do Durante and was great.) The most imitated women were 
Eva Tanguay and Mae West. Just think back and try to remember 
any kid just learning to talk who didn't say, "Why don't you come 
up and see me sometime?" and their doting mothers would say, 
"Another Mae West!" 

From 1897 to 1910 there was an epidemic of mimics in vaude, It 
died down for about five years and then broke out again and 
lasted until about 1925, when the mimics took a powder for 
awhile. Creators, not imitators, became the order of things. Then 
radio came in and with it a plague of mimics got aboard the gravy 
train many very good ones who have since given up mimicry but 
as I said before, I'm only telling you about the guy and dolls in 
vaude up through the Palace days. 

The reason mimics get over so well is that no one in the audience 
wants to be embarrassed by having the people around him think 
that he hasn't seen the artist being imitated, so he applauds. Nat 
Goodwin, while playing Boston, announced an imitation of Edwin 
Booth. He did a few lines and some man applauded. Goodwin 
walked to the foots and said, 'Til bet you never saw him in your 
life!" And the old one comes to mind of when Dave Warfield saw 
a certain mimic give an imitation of him, turned to a friend, and 
said, "One of us is lousy!" 

There were acts in variety and vaude that called themselves 
mimics and imitators that were not. What they did was much 
easier than mimicry, because they used wigs, beards, mustaches, 
or complete false faces. They would announce imitations of great 
men, past and present, and would make up quickly in full view of 
the audience as a well-known president, general, or king (mostly 
King Edward and the Kaiser) . Some of them would make up like 
a famous composer and lead the orchestra in one of his popular 
compositions. Among these "mimics" the best were Willie Zim- 
merman, who would also show how President Taft and William 
Jennings Bryan would lead an orchestra, Harry Allister, Joseph 
Callahan, Saona, and the Great Lafayette, who modestly billed him- 
self as "Europe's Greatest Mimic/ 1 The greatest of all these so-called 
imitators was Henry Lee. To give you an idea, here is his opening 

Lefty's Letters * 

"Ladies and gentlemen, introductions are always difficult 
things to effect. It is easy to say too much or too little. Then 
again we may introduce the wrong people. Today I propose to 
introduce to you several noted personages, Pope Leo, Prince 
Bismarck, General Grant, General Lee, Rudyard Kipling, and 
others. If you do not like them, the fault is either theirs or 
yours. They will do their best to please you. Of this I give you 
my personal assurance. But assurance was always a less marked 
feature of my character than modesty. Being modest, I am 
naturally retiring, and as I am retiring, I beg leave to withdraw. 
Strike up, oh music of the starry spheres, and captive lead our 
willing, listening ears." 

Brother, that's what me and Aggie call "telling 'em'/' Eh? 

For young talent with spotlight fever, mimicry is good insurance. 
Youngsters may come along who will dare to break tradition and 
bring us something new in mimicry that so far nobody has done. 
Mimics will always be part of the entertainment personnel, because 
America loves to have its greats and near greats satirized, ridiculed, 
burlesqued, and parodied, and we'll always have guys and gals do 
it for a price! And we don't blame 'em! SEZ 

Your pal, 



Dear Joe, 

I don't know about you, but the first goose pimples I got while 
watching a vaude show was as a kid when a mysterious-looking 
guy with a thin mustache and a little goatee, dressed in full eve- 
ning clothes with a red ribbon across his white shirt front and a 
couple of medals dangling from his chest, walked on stage with a 
wand in one hand and made a pitch in a soft mysterious voice. I 


slunk down in my seat. I knew singing and dancing and acrobatics 
and even musical-glass players, but here was a guy that to me was 
like the genie in Aladdin's Lamp. He had me a bit frightened and 
a bit curious when he took a live rabbit out of a hat! From that 
day on I was interested in magic, and during our first season in 
show biz we had the good fortune to work on a bill with Roland 
Travers, a fine magician who produced not only rabbits, but geese 
and ducks and pigeons. I wasn't frightened any more, but I still 
was plenty curious. So between shows I'd fool around Travers' 
paraphernalia, and in no time I released the gimmick and had 
pigeons and ducks flying all over the place. And all Travers did was 
laugh. I've always liked magic and magicians since that day, espe- 
cially Roland Travers! 

I don't believe there is any branch of show biz that has so many 
outsiders interested in it as magic! When I say magic,, I cover 
everything from producing a live rabbit to tricks with coins, cards, 
illusions, escape artists, mind readers, shadowgraphists, hypnotists, 
and even marionettes and ventriloquists. 

There have been more books written on magic than on any other 
subject in the theater. There are seven magic magazines with a 
large circulation (for professional and working amateurs), and 
thousands of magic books are sold every year. There are six big 
magicians' societies with many branches. There are also thirty 
dealers in magic supplies in the country and about twenty-five 
builders of paraphernalia for professional magicians. I believe that 
right now there are less than 200 real professional, full-time magi- 
cians in all of America. But there are thousands of amateurs and 
semipros who work clubs and local entertainments after they finish 
with their bread-and-butter work. They seldom travel very far, as 
they have to get home in time to go on their regular jobs. Amateur 
magicians spend over half a million bucks a year on tricks for their 
own amusement. They are what me and Aggie call "life-of-the- 
party" guys. And many of them are really good. The late Fulton 
Oursler was a great amateur magician, as is Drake V. Smith, the 
advertising man, and Julius Proscauer, the attorney, Meyer Silver- 
stein, the textile king, and J. Robert Rubin, the MGM attorney. 

There is very little work on the stage for magicians today. The 
coin, card, and close-up workers can't play large stages and audi- 
toriums, and the illusionists, who carry big loads of paraphernalia, 
can't afford present transportation costs, charges for extra stage- 

Lefty's Letters los 

hands, etc. So club work is very welcome and now provides the 
greater part of the magician's income. A few work night clubs and 
do very well. Some bars have magicians to keep the customers 
interested; they get parties together and boost the bar bills. These 
are mostly table workers who usually depend on tips. 

Magicians will tell you that drunks and morons are hard to enter- 
tain, and kids must have special tricks because they don't go for 
misdirection! If you speak to the dean of magicians, Carl Rosini, 
who has played every vaude theater in the world, he will tell you 
that there is nothing new in magic, but just like gags, the old tricks 
get new switches. Fred Keating, an old vaudevillian known for his 
"disappearing canary" trick (not the first to do it but certainly the 
best), once said there are three kinds of magicians, "Those who do 
tricks, those who shoot at r em ? and those who talk about T em!" 

The oldest trick is the ball and cups. Tricks most used in vaude 
were those with cards, coins, rope, Chinese rings, silks, bowls of 
rice, and bowls of water; taking the rabbit out of a hat was like a 
time step to a hoofer. 

There were about a half a dozen female magicians who were 
really good. Mrs, Adele Herrmann (wife of the famous magician) 
was one of the few that played big-time vaude. The Great Lala 
Selbini bought the magic paraphernalia and illusions of the Great 
Lafayette, but wasn't very successful with it. Mile. Talma (of Lc 
Roy, Talma & Bosco) was really great doing six coin manipulations 
at one time. Way back in 1898 Karnochi was a good lady magician. 
(Even today there are only two really top lady magicians, Del 
O'Dell and Lady Frances. But I'm not supposed to tell you about 

There were only a few magic sensations that got the audiences 
talking to themselves. The first was "esra," the levitation trick, 
brought to this country by Sam Du Vries and shown at Hammer- 
stein's. (Sam later became a big agent in Chicago.) Another sensa- 
tion was Carclini and his cigarettes (copied by hundreds of acts), 
and the biggest sensation in magic in our time was "sawing a 
woman in half/' first shown here by Horace Golden (the trick 
dates way back, but Golden, who sued everybody (never figuring he 
would win), claimed that he was the originator and received tre- 
mendous publicitywhich was all he wanted. Remember all the 
gags the comics pulled about it? "I sawed a woman in half; I got 
the part that eatsl" "Who was that lady I sawed you with last 


night?" One guy advertised a brand-new novelty of the trick, "saw- 
ing a Negro lady in half!" (Some switch, eh?) He called it Black 

The illusionists were looked up to by other magicians because 
they carried lots of paraphernalia, scenery, and assistants. The un- 
disputed champ of magicians for many years was Kellar. He worked 
at Hammerstein's in 1902 with an ordinary magic act, but he soon 
left vaude to put on a full magic show playing the combination 
($1.50 top) houses in America and all over the world. He retired 
after forty-seven years and handed the show over to Howard 
Thurston, who was his assistant. I will never forget the great ova- 
tion all the magicians gave him at the Hippodrome, New York, 
when they brought Kellar on stage and threw roses all over the 
stage. Howard Thurston carried on for many years in the tradition 
of Kellar and was the leading magic show in America. Alexander 
Herrmann also had a great show. Horace Golden was a top illu- 
sionist for many years before he brought out his "sawing a woman 
in half." Dante didn't play much vaude, but made a great name 
for himself as a road attraction. Blackstone, a fine all-round magi- 
cian, played vaude for many years, and then took out his own full 
show and became tops. After retiring for a few years, he is again 
on the road with his big magic show, and I would rate him the 
greatest of the moderns! 

The Great Lafayette did a terrific one-man show and played all 
over the world. While playing the Palace, Edinburgh, Scotland, the 
theater caught fire and Joe Coates (a midget), whom he used in 
the show dressed as a teddy bear, and two other assistants were 
burned to death. The firemen, thinking Coates was a real teclcly 
bear, didn't bother saving him as they wanted to save humans first. 

Carl Rosini is a vet of vaude that played all over the world, with 
a command performance in England to his credit, and a command 
performance for Joe Stalin in Russia to his discredit! Can you 
imagine what would have happened to him if, while playing in 
Russia, he had said no? He said yes and is now dean of the 
magicians in America. 

Rush Ling Toy, Fredrick Stevaro, and the Great Fredricks were 
all fine illusionists in the 19005. Carter did "The Lion's Bride," an 
illusion which the Great Lafayette did originally. The Du Boises, 
De Biere, Reuschling, the Tomasons, and Roland Travers were all 
great vaude illusionists. 

Lefty's Letters 

Bunth & Rudd way back in 1879 were one * ^e ori g ina ^ 
comedy magic acts, and in 1880 Imro Fox was the first single 
comedy magician; he was real funny and good and lasted as tops 
way into the real Big Time. In 1899 there was only one Negro 
magician, "The Great Gowongo." Me and Aggie can't remember 
of ever working with or even seeing a Negro magician. Other great 
comedy magic acts were Jarrow, famous for his lemon trick and his 
very funny talk he was the magician favorite at Hammerstein's; 
Judson Cole, who did comedy talk and cards; Martini & Maximi- 
lian (burly illusionists); Ziska & King; and Chinese Johnny 
Williams, and, of course, Long Tack Sam. 

But the greatest comedy magic act in vaude, that really had very 
little magic, was Frank Van Hoven, the 'Mad Magician" (and 
this guy was really mad). If you ever saw him getting his two 
stooges to hold large cakes of real ice and trying to introduce them 
to each other, you would have seen one of the greatest comedy 
scenes of our times. Off stage he was just as crazy, and his prac- 
tical jokes got him in many a jam. When he first started to work 
for Gus Sun, he was canceled regularly and he very seldom finished 
out an engagement. He didn't do his ice act then; just regular 
magic (he didn't have enough dough to buy ice) . When he finally 
came to New York and was a big hit, he would always talk about 
his Gus Sun days in his ads in the trade papers. He would play one 
free week in America; that was for a manager who didn't cancel 
him when he played in his house in East St. Louis. He gave him 
encouragement and even staked him to a few bucks to get out of 
town. Two swell guys, Joe Erber and Van Hoven! 

Among the great card men were Merlin, Si & Mary Stebbins, 
who worked as rubes and did fine card tricks. The Great Albini 
started out doing card stuff but later did practically nothing but 
the very old "egg and bag" trick, which he became identified with; 
I believe he did it the best. Cardini, a fine manipulator of cards 
and a good all-round magician, became famous for his cigarette 
trick; he was tops. Wallace Galvin did cards, and also balls and 
rings; Salval was a comedy card shark; Claude Golden was a master 
with cards; but I believe the tops of all the card workers was the 
one and only Nate Leipsigl 

The great artists among the coin men were Allan Shaw, Mile. 
Talma, Floenzi, who did great palming, and who did the cigarette 
stuff before Cardini, but never could do much with it. It was 


Cardini who developed it with his showmanship into the hit it 
became. Welsh Miller and Manuel were both great coin men, but 
the greatest of them all was Nelson Downs! 

There were a number of very fine all-round magicians in vaude, 
like the Great Leon, a vet who played everything in vaude. His 
assistant was Jay Palmer, who later, as Palmer & Doreen, played all 
over the world a great comedy act, "The Magic Kettle." Gus 
Fowler struck a new note by making hundreds of watches appear; 
Johnnie & Nellie Olms also did this type act. There were Ten Ichi, 
the originator of the water trick, the Great Asehi Troupe, who 
made water come out of their finger tips, Ching Lee Foo, who 
created a sensation on his first trip to the United States and also 
on his return date in 1912, Henry Clive, a fine actor and one of 
our great portrait painters, who as a magician in vaude presented 
spirit paintings and the "wrestling cheese" (people tried to lift the 
cheese but couldn't), and the Valdos, who did spirit stuff in 
cabinets. Hong Ping Chien & Co. put sticks through their noses 
(sensational). Fakir Raaon Bey did a magical act, but for exploita- 
tion did the "buried alive" stunt. Atra defied a bullet fired from 
a rifle right at his stomach. Sparrow featured eating dozens of 
eggs. Maskelyn, an English magician, was very good, as was the 
Frenchman, Les Marco Belli, Crane, the Irish magician, was a 
vaude favorite for many years. Paul Valadon, an Englishman from 
the Egyptian Hall, in London, did sleight-of-hand stuff and later 
brought over the levitation trick and worked with Kellar. Mo- 
hammed Kahn, a Hindu magician, and Carl Hertz, an old-timer 
from Frisco, were both very good. Clement De Lion, a Dane, was 
excellent doing billiard-ball stuff. The Okito Family were wonder- 
ful (they came from five generations of magicians). Henri French 
was very good. Zemlock & Co. did spirit stuff, like tipping the disk, 
playing drums, moving tables, etc. J. Jerome Mora kept taking 
birds and animals from his magic casket. Jupiter Bros, did what is 
called "cabinet work," a la spiritualists, like producing flying tam- 
bourines and fresh flowers. Rameses, an Englishman, did a re- 
markable act with fresh flowers (changing them, etc,), Gilly-Gilly, 
a table worker, made noises like a chicken and a small chick would 
appear in his mouth he used no hands. Henry E. Dixie, who was 
one of our great legit stars, did many acts in vaude sketches, 
monologues, and also an expert magic act. Nora Bayes and Jack 
Norworth did a magic number in their act that was a novelty, 

Lefty's Letters "0 

Norworth doing swell tricks while they were singing. (Jack is a 
very fine amateur magician.) 

Mind reading, or mental telepathy, is certainly a part of magic. 
One of the greatest sensations to hit New York in the early igoos 
were the mind readers; Anna Eva Fay was the greatest box-office 
attraction, helped a great deal by the wonderful publicity and show- 
manship of Willie Hammerstein. There was a family feud and the 
wife of John T. Fay (who worked with the Fays) left the act and 
did one called "The Fays Fazing the Fays/' which was an expose. 
It got over for a short time, hut they went back to the regular mind- 
reading act. It seemed that audiences didn't like to be disillusioned; 
they would rather be fooled! 

Great showmen among the mind readers in vaude were Dun- 
ninger (who is still going strong on TV), Norman Frescott and 
Babe Stanton (one of the best), Jovedah, and the Sharrocks, who 
did a very good comedy act called "Behind the Grandstand/' 
Mercedes with Mile. Stanton was a sensation in vaude for many 
years; they even had the actors on the bills with them guessing how 
they did it. Anyone in the audience would just whisper to Mercedes 
the tune he wished Mile. Stanton to play on the stage and with- 
out a word from him she would play it. Mercedes at times would 
ask someone to just think of the tune he wished played yop she 
would play it. (In the early 7 8os the "Modern Svengali" hypnotized 
a woman who sat at the piano and played selections whispered to 
him.) The Zancigs were popular in vaude, as were Harry & Frances 
Usher. "The Girl with the 1000 Eyes" really cleaned up. There 
were many more mental telepathists, mind readers, etc., who played 
all the small time and cleaned up with their "love advice/' telling 
where you could find your lost articles, what business you should 
enter, etc., and also did private readings off stage. These were 
strictly "mitt readers" or fortune tellers. It was a sweet racket while 
it lasted, but only the real small-time manager would go for it. The 
Big-Timers didn't have to resort to side dough, as they received 
good salaries. 

Another phase of magic is hypnotism! At one time vaude, espe- 
cially small-time vaude, was just lousy with lousy hypnotists. The 
act was presented as educational (?), but really was amusing, The 
hypnotist would make a high-grade pitch, using words and medical 
terms he didn't even understand himself, explaining what hypno- 
tism was and what he was going to prove. They never referred to 


it as an "act/' but always billed it as a "scientific demonstration." 
They would request a "committee" to assist with the experiments. 
(By the way, these were among the first audience-participation 
acts.) The committee had to be loaded with confederates, which 
was tough on the small-time hyps who had to do four shows a day; 
they couldn't use the same stooges because many of the audience 
would stay for two shows and naturally would get wise if they saw 
the same committee every show. 

Out of the hundreds of hypnotists, most of them were real bad. 
Pauline was the tops; he had a fine personality, spoke like an actor- 
doctor, always referred to "this experiment, which I performed be- 
fore the world's greatest scientists," and proceeded to draw blood 
from the arm of a "subject" selected from the audience while the 
"subject" was under the influence of hypnotism. "This I insist will 
be a great boon to medicine, surgery, and mankind!" Then he 
would make members of the committee go through various crazy 
stunts, such as barking like a dog, acting like a strong man trying 
to lift a i, ooopound weight (with nothing in his hands), making 
like a rooster, etc. The pi&ce de resistaiice was hypnotizing a sub- 
ject by putting hands in front of his eyes and saying the magic 
word, "Rigid!" (which became a byword in vaude). The subject 
would stiffen, then be laid across the tops of two chairs, and half- 
a-dozen men would stand on the rigid body. In 1922 a hyp named 
Vishnu, playing at the Empire Theatre in Kansas City, put a girl 
to sleep on the stage by broadcasting from the local station a few 
blocks away. She was placed in a local store window for twenty-four 
hours, then taken back to the theater and brought out of the 
hypnotic spell. This was also done many times without radio. A lot 
of fun for a while, and it died out just as quickly as it came in. 

There were Polgar, Pelham (next best to Pauline), Prof. Theo 
Pull, Harry Hyman, Powers, Ralph Slater, Ahrenmeyer, Banyan, 
the Great Priscilla, Svengali, and a few others that were very good. 

All these abracadabra guys were really great, because they were 
always interesting. You went home wondering, "How did they 
do it?" 

And now to another phase of magic "shadographists." There 
were very few of these artists and it was a good novelty. Mr. and 
Mrs. Gordon Wilde were among the pioneer shadowgraph acts in 
big-time vaude. Others were Mr. and Mrs. Darrow, Maxwell 
Holden, Frevoli (who also did magic) , Massian O'Connor, Marcou 

Lefty's Letters H2 

(one of the greatest), Stanley Gallini, and Chassino. The Halkings 
did electrical shadowgraphs. Lola and Fay Durbyelle were the 
only two women doing shadowgraphing. 

Escape artists were also a part of magic. There were a number of 
these with carnivals, circuses, and in small-time vaude, but only a 
few stood out in the Big Time: Brindamour, the Vancos (who did 
handcuff and trunk escapes), Haslam, a strait-jacket escape artist, 
the Great Raymond, Hardeen (who was Houdini's brother), and 
Hilda, the "Handcuff Queen" and strait-jacket escapist. But when 
you add them all up, they couldn't even touch the handcuffs of one 
of the greatest showmen of our times, Houdini! 

A kid who started out as a trapeze artist, Houdini (nee Ernie 
Weiss) became the world's best-known escape artist. Houdini once 
told me and Aggie a story about the time he played Glasgow, Scot- 
land. They advertised that he would do his famous escape from a 
packing case, in which he was placed handcuffed and with feet 
tied, the cover nailed down, and the box lowered into the river. 
This was what Houdini used as a terrific publicity stunt for years; 
he not only got big newspaper coverage with "pics, but thousands 
of people gathered to watch him do this trick (it was for free) . So 
you can imagine his surprise when he showed up on the bridge in 
Glasgow to do this stunt and found that there were just a handful 
of people there. He asked the manager if he was sure he had the 
right date advertised. And the manager told him yes and showed 
him copies of the papers and handbills. Houdini went through with 
his escape (as a good showman would), and when he got back to 
the theater he found out the reason why nobody showed up. It 
was a toll bridgel 

Houdini was the first dumb act that got a spot in the middle 
of the bill (they usually opened or closed a show), and was the 
first act of his type to be headlined. It wasn't what he did as much 
as the way he did it. He would make the simplest trick look diffi- 
cult. He was a great student of the art of magic and when he died 
left a very valuable collection of books covering every phase of the 
field. He devoted the latter years of his life to exposing fake 
"mediums" and "spiritualists," offering $10,000 if they could show 
him anything he couldn't duplicate. He died from a burst ap- 
pendix, brought on by a punch in the stomach, He would allow 
anybody to take a good punch at his stomach, claiming to have 


muscles that could resist any blow. The name "Houdini" was so 
well known that "to do a Houdini" means to escape! 

Ventriloquism is definitely a part of abracadabra. Many years 
ago me and Aggie were on the bill with Arthur Prince, who was 
really one of the great ventriloquists of vaude. He kinda took a 
liking to us and after the show we'd "beer it up" and he would tell 
us a lot about ventriloquism or, as we used to call 'em, "belly- 
talkers/' He was a classy guy and spoke good English (maybe it 
was because he was an Englishman), so naturally he had us at a 

Prince told us that years ago ventriloquism was used in connec- 
tion with religious ceremonies instead of stage entertainment. The 
priests of pagan tribes made noises come out of the idols and so 
made plenty of wampum (or whatever they used for dough) out of 
the savages. There is no such thing as voice throwing or what they 
call "distant ventriloquism/' It's done by taking a deep breath and 
then letting it escape slowly, the voice sounds being modified by 
means of the upper part of the throat and the palate; the tighter 
the throat is closed, the further away the sound seems to be. It is 
then up to the vent to mislead the audience (like magicians do with 
misdirection) as to the man "on the roof/' "under the ground/' 
or "in the box." Remember how the old-time vents would say to 
the dummy when he got too fresh, "I'll put you back in the trunk/' 
or, "Jerry, keep saying hello as you come up from the cellar"? 

Baron Mengen of Vienna was about the first to build a wooden 
doll with movable lips; that was around 1750. But from the first, 
the thing that interested people most was the "distant" voice. The 
owner of the "second voice" was regarded with superstitious amaze- 
ment. Many of 'em were burned for witchcraft. 

Ed Reynard and A. O. Duncan were pioneers in American 
ventriloquism. All the vents tried at first to put novelty in their 
acts. Sam Watson had a "Barnyard Circus/' Paul Sandor's "Minia- 
ture Cirque" used a circus for a background; Corarn, with his 
Jerry, a crying doll, was one of the best. Cole Travis had walking 
figures, barking dogs, chickens, etc.- a very good act. Fred Russell 
was the first to work the whole act with one figure, which he called 
"Coster Joe"; they all copied working the figure on the knee from 
him and also took many of his gags. Arthur Prince was not a good 
voice thrower, but was marvelous when changing from one voice 
to another; he was the highest-priced vent in vaude. Prince was also 

lefty's Letters 114 

the first to give his whole act in the form of a sketch with one 
figure placed away from the body. Then there was W. E. Whittle, 
who impersonated Teddy Roosevelt and talked with his dummy 
about topics of the day. George W. Hussey did dialects, Jay W. 
Winton had a laughing dummy, Walter & Emily Walters special- 
ized in baby crying. John W. Cooper was the first Negro vent; 
Frank Rogers, also a Negro, came later. Harry Kennedy, a good 
vent, was also a song writer. Tom Edwards, from England, with his 
"Father and Baby" act was very good. Johnson Clare with his 
"tough kid" that he called Squire, Fred Howard, A. C. Astor, and 
Carl Nobel were all good. 

We had vents from all over the world in vaude. Richard Na- 
dradge was Germany's best, George S. Lauder (Australia), worked 
with five dummies, Alf Ripon and the Great Howard were from 
Scotland, Les Freres Nad were a couple of French vents, and Carl 
Nobel was Scandinavian. 

Professor Davis and Trovollo were the creators of the mechan- 
ical walking and talking figures. Trovollo in 1910 had an act, "Re- 
incarnation/ 7 using a lion and chimp for dummies. 

All the vents were trying hard to get away from the old-fashioned 
way of just working with the dummy on the knee. Lieut. Walter 
Cole worked with a group of figures called "Merry Folks." Ed 
Reynard, with his "Morning in Hicksville," was ranked as the big- 
gest and best vent production. W. H. Clement had the biggest 
walking figure act; he had a soldier and nurse outfit with a baby 
in a carriage. Lieutenant Noble was one of the first to bring out a 
walking figure. 

The Great Lester was first to do the distant voice clearly before 
the mike was invented. He claimed to be the originator of drink- 
ing while making a humming noise, but a playbill dated 1821 
shows that Mons. Alexandre, the French vent, drank while talking 
(and by the way, Alexandre was the founder of the Boston Public 
Library and his name is in the library entrance). The Great Lester's 
phone bit when he called up "Heaven" and "Hell" in search of 
his sister was outstanding and long remembered; you could hear 
when he lifted the phone off the hook, the busy signal, etc, His 
dummy was named Frank Byron. He was also first to walk among 
the audience with his lips tightly closed and his dummy whistling 
a tune. A real great vent was the Great Lesterl 

John W. Cooper's act was called "Fun in a Barber Shop." There 


was a manicurist, a Negro head in the towel box and when a towel 
was thrown in the head would pop out, man in chair getting 
shaved, newsboy standing with papers in hand, customer reading 
newspaper while waiting to be shaved, and a parrot on a perch. 
Real novel and real good. 

Lydia Dreams (whose real name was Walter Lambert, and who 
came from England) was a female impersonator vent but never 
removed his wig and the audience believed it was a lady. He was 
also a great portrait painter and made all of his figures and props. 
Jay W. Winton had a dummy named McGinty and at the finish 
of his act McGinty would climb up a rope. Jules Vernon, assisted 
by his wife, was stricken with blindness while playing the Orpheum 
in Spokane, Washington, in 1920. He kept on in the act with his 
six figures and kept it a secret that he was blind. When the stand 
on which the figures were mounted was moved onto the stage, there 
was a black thread tied to the stand and to the wings, and when 
Vernon entered he followed the black thread until he got to his 
stand. Some of the figures were worked from the back of the head, 
others with a pneumatic hose and foot treadle. 

Frederick MacCabe was a famous English vent who played 
American Big Time; he did not use figures but was a distant voice 
exponent and a good one. George W. Harvel worked with two 
Civil War soldiers, life-size, both one-legged and using crutches. 
O. M. Mitchell (Orm McKnight) was said by nearly all vents to 
be the best of the distant-voice vents. Johnny Woods, a Negro, had 
a dummy do a restaurant eating act sitting at a table. Colby & Moy 
were the first to introduce the dancing doll in a vent act. 

Leo Bill, a Frenchman, did a very novel act. There was a statue 
on the table and his wife entered with a feather duster and acci- 
dentally struck the statue and its head fell apart. Bill entered, 
found his wife all excited over the accident, and told her it was 
O.K. and he would put on a new head. He built the head on his 
fist and placed it on the broken statue and did his vent stuff a la 
Senor Wences (many years before Wences, who I believe is to- 
day's greatest) . 

Another novel act was "Prelle's Ventriloquial Dogs." Charlie 
Prelle, a German, had a bunch of dogs fitted with human masks 
with movable mouths. The dogs were trained so that when he 
spoke for a certain character, the mouth of that dog would move 
as if talking. (So Francis, the talking mule, is new, eh?) 

Lefty's Letters 11B 

William Ebbs did a travesty on vents. In his first act he was 
seated near a wicker lamp that had a large shade, with his midget 
brother concealed in the lamp. The supposed dummy, Ebbs, ate an 
apple and drank water while doing rapid-fire talk. Finally the light 
was put out and the midget fell down from the lamp, showing up 
the fake. In a later act he brought out the "dummy" in a suit case, 
took him out in front of the audience, worked as a regular vent act 
(of course with remarkable tricks because the midget did the talk- 
ing), and put the dummy back in the valise for an exit. They gave 
it away when taking bows. Felix Alder, Mike Donlin & Tom Lewis, 
Dody*& Lewis, Fred Allen, and many more, all did a burly vent 
bit using a live dummy. 

Carl Nobel of Copenhagen had a remarkable act. A woman 
hobbled out with Carl on her back and a Frenchman on his, and 
beneath her heavy burden sang in a harsh voice, while Nobel also 
sang and the Frenchman on his back nodded and leered approv- 
ingly. The act looked like there were three living persons one on 
top of another, while it really was only one living person and two 
dummies. He made the figures and mechanism himself. 

There were some clever female vents. Ella Morris was the first. 
Grace De Winters was a very clever vent and impersonator. Miss 
De Bussey had an act with soldier and boy figures. Winona Winter 
(daughter of the famous Banks Winter, the song writer) worked 
with one figure, telling funny stories and giving a good impersona- 
tion of Trovollo (another great vent). There was also Maude Ed- 
wards (sister of Tom), Hilda Hawthorne (one of the best), Mabel 
Johnson, who use a "highly cultured" Boston dummy, Kaye Var- 
roll, Mabel Hudson, Emily Walters, Bessie Gaby, and Grace 
Wallace. Some used to work with male partners; others joined 
partners after doing a single. 

Marshall Montgomery started as a musical act, gave an imita- 
tion of George M. Cohan, played comedy piano and some freak 
instruments, and was champ harmonica player, defeating the Euro- 
pean champ, Jim Gouge (all this before he became a vent). He 
presented his vent act in sketch form (as did Arthur Prince), but 
it was absolutely no copy. Montgomery was one of the top head- 
line vent acts on the Big Time for many years and was considered 
to be in a class by himself. Frank Gaby came a lot later, but was a 
very big hit and just beginning to click when he died, a young 
man who would have had a great future. 


Edgar Bergen was the first vent to appear on radio and TV and 
in pictures. When he was in vaude he got away from the usual 
slapstick old-fashioned material that other vents were using. Al- 
though Edgar has often said that when working his "mouth swings 
like a gate/' his manipulation of Charlie McCarthy is really expert 
stuff and he has the superb timing of a Jack Benny (which is good 
enough for anybody) . Edgar Bergen has made more money in the 
art of ventriloquism than any other vent past or present. 

There is an International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists, of 
which W. S. Berger is the president. If you are ever around Fort 
Mitchell, Kentucky, be sure and drop in and let him show you a 
large room in his home filled with the dummies used by famous 
vents. He calls it the "Vent Home," a very odd and interesting 

Marionettes are one of the oldest forms of entertainment and 
belong also in the field of magic. They were used in the Holy Plays 
hundreds of years ago, long before stage plays. Of course Punch 
and Judy (hand puppets), with Punch slapsticking Judy and the 
Devil, goes way back. We had some real swell marionette acts in 
vaude. There were the Don Carlos Marionettes, John & Louisa 
Till, D'Arc's Marionettes (who gave imitations of famous stars), 
Rhoade's Marionettes, who had a "drunk" that was bounced by a 
cop between acts, LeRoy Marionetttes, Holden's Manikins, the 
Wallace Puppets, Petty's Puppets, Mantell's Mechanical Marion- 
ettes, Salaci Marionettes (great), La Petite Cabarette, which did 
an entire night-club show, Manikin Music Hall, and the greatest 
of 'em all, Mme. Jewel's Marionettes, a stage on a stage, with the 
marionettes giving a complete vaude show. 

These were all a part of the Magic Family and they all con- 
tributed their share for the upkeep of Lady Vaudeville! SEZ 

Your pal, 


Lefty's Letters 


Dear Joe, 

I believe that almost all the champs and near champs in every 
branch of sports appeared at one time or another in vaude or burly! 
In a way these were "freak acts"; very few delivered entertainment 
and they were just used while they were making newspaper head- 
lines to sort of goose up the box office. Some were good for a twirl 
around the circuit, some good only in large cities, and many were 
played locally. 

The old melodramas used fighters and wrestlers as stars, not be- 
cause of their acting ability but for their box-office draw. John L. 
Sullivan, Bob Fitzsimmons, Jim Corbett, Terry McGovern, Jack 
Dempsey, Sandow, and even Ty Cobb (who played the lead in the 
road show of The College Widow) are a few who starred in shows. 
Jim Corbett was about the only one who could really act. He proved 
that in Cashel Byron's Profession at Daly's Theatre on Broadway 
in 1906. Burly shows used athletes as special attractions long be- 
fore vaude did; there were very few burly shows that didn't have 
some sports celebrity as box-office bait! 

Of all the kinds of athletes in vaude, there were more fighters 
than anything else; baseball players ran second. Willie Hammer- 
stein played more champ athletes than any other theater manager, 
The clientele at Hammerstein's was 75 per cent from the sporting 
element of New York and naturally jammed the place to see a 
winner. The old gag around Broadway was that when someone won 
an athletic event, his manager would say to him, "Hurry up and 
take a shower and put on your clothes. You are booked at Hammer- 

Mike Donlin, the great outfielder of the New York Giants, was 
kinda led into vaude through his marriage to Mabel Hite (a great 
soubrette), and they continued doing an act together when Mike 
left baseball until Mabel Hite was "booked out of town/' Here is 
a story about them that had Broadway talking for many a clay. 
When Mabel died, she was cremated, and her ashes were placed 
in an urn at a certain well-known undertaking establishment in 


New York. After a few years a package was sent to Murray's 
Restaurant on West Forty-second Street by mistake. At that time 
there was a bomb scare, and when the package was delivered some- 
one got suspicious and called the police, who promptly soaked the 
"bomb" in water. When they opened it they found the urn con- 
taining the ashes. (Mike sued for plenty.) 

Although many used vaude and burly to grab off some easy 
dough once in a while, there was one champ who made show biz 
his profession when he hung up his gloves: that was James J. Cor- 
bett. (Slapsie Maxie, Max Baer, and the others came much later.) 
Gentleman Jim became a fine monologist, a great straight man, and 
a good actor, and remained in show biz until he had to quit be- 
cause of ill health. 

In the Warner Bros, picture of Gentleman Jim, they had him as 
a member of the famous Olympic Club in San Francisco. The 
truth was that he was Walter Watson's assistant. Watson taught 
him all he knew about boxing. Jim became amateur champ of 
Frisco and later was made an honorary member of the Olympic 
Club. At a benefit given for Jim at the Grand Opera House in 
Frisco, he boxed John L. Sullivan (world's heavyweight champ) 
three exhibition rounds. They stripped to the waist and boxed with 
their "dress" pants and shoes on. It was after this exhibition that 
Corbett turned to a friend and said, "I can lick John L. anytime 
I want to." He wasn't bragging; he just knew he could do it. A 
few years later he did do it and became the World Heavyweight 
Champion. (He knocked out John L. in the twenty-first round.) 

Jim Corbett/s monologue was a classic. He had an easy delivery, 
a fine appearance, and a delightful sense of humor, which is a 
pretty nice parky in show biz. He had a poor memory on names, 
forgetting even those of his best friends. To cover this failing he 
would call everybody "kid," even if the guy had a long beard. 
One day at breakfast at the Friars Club, he greeted those around 
him by their first names. I turned to Bert Hanlon in surprise and 
said, "Hey, what happened to Jim? He's remembering all our 
names." And Bert said, "He is just getting over the Fitzsimmons 
fight" (which happened in 1895). After giving his regular "Hello, 
kid" to a stranger, he would follow it up with "How's the folks?" 
I once asked him why he said that when he didn't know the guy, 
much less his folks? Jim said, "Listen, kid, everybody has folks!" 
He was an ice-cream fiend, as was his friend and neighbor Fred 

Lefty's Letters 12 

Hillebrand (the song writer and comedian), and during his illness 
Fred would drive him from Bayside to the Biltmore Hotel in 
New York for a dish of his favorite pistachio ice cream. 

There is just one more story I'd like to tell you about my old 
friend Jim. When the late Flo Ziegfeld managed Sandow (the 
famous strong man), they issued a challenge to Jim, with a big 
side bet, if Jim would meet Sandow, Jim to box and Sandow to 
wrestle and winner take all. (The first challenge of its kind, but 
it has been used plenty of times since then.) It caused a lot of 
controversy at the time and of course got plenty of newspaper 
space. "Could a great fighter lick a great wrestler and strong man?" 
One night Jim was sitting in a restaurant in Frisco with some of 
his friends, including Frank Belcher, the great basso (who was in 
Jiin 7 s show at the time and who told me this story), Professor Bill 
Clark, "Bud" Woodthrope (Jim's secretary), manager Ollie Hagan, 
and the sporting editor of the Frisco Chronicle (whose name 
escapes me), when in walked Sandow and Ziegfeld. There was a 
tense moment, as the papers were playing up the "angry" angles 
between the two. But Jim invited them to his table for a drink. 
Corbett and Sandow got to talking about their respective rackets, 
Sandow of course speaking about wrestling and feats of strength 
and Jim about fighting and boxing. "I can't hold horses on my 
chest like you do, Sandow; mine is a different game," said Jim. 
And Sandow replied, "With all my strength I don't think I can 
punch as hard as you, Jim." Sandow was pleased with Jim's gentle- 
manly manners and they finished up friends. I personally think the 
"bad feeling" was all press stuff dreamed up by Ziggy; in fact I 
believe that he even rigged up the meeting in the restaurant. 
Maybe me and Aggie are wrong about it, but weVe been in show 
biz a long time and even stopped believing our own press notices! 
Anyway there was no match. 

Among the great fighters to play vaude was John L. Sullivan 
(we played on the Loew Circuit with him). He did a prohibition 
talk. (When their livers can't take it any more, they turn prohibi- 
tionist.) He was a kindly old gentleman, good company, but I cer- 
tainly would love to have met him in his prime when he would 
clean out a barroom of its beer and customers at the drop of a 
remark. We also played with Bob Fitzsimmons when he did an act 
with his beautiful wife, Julia May Gifford, and later when he 
played the Pantages Time and we were playing the Orpheum 


Circuit (bragging); we both played the same towns. In his act he 
introduced his son as the future "white-hope champ" (always got 
big applause on that announcement), but it was wasted because 
the son didn't inherit his father's punch; all he had was his father's 

We also worked in the same towns with Jim Jeffries and Tom 
Sharkey when they made their tour for Loew. All show folks would 
meet after the show at night. Big Jim Jeffries told us about the time 
back in 1899 when he, Tom Sharkey, and Jim Corbett played in a 
burlesque skit called "Round New York in Eighty Minutes," at 
Koster and Bial's. When I told Tom Sharkey that I sold papers 
outside of his saloon (it was a joint) on East Fourteenth Street 
when I was a kid, he checked me about the rest of the street and 
was surprised that I knew every spot on the block, from the Unique 
Theatre (a penny arcade with two acts, that was east of his place) 
to the Dewey and Luchow's. (The Dewey is where William Fox 
really startedso did we. Luchow's was and is one of the most 
famous of New York restaurants.) By the way, the sailors that 
came out of Sharkey's gave us kids a nickel for a paper and the 
rich guys that came out of Luchow's only gave us the regular price, 
one cent! Maybe the sailors were drunk; anyway, we kids figured 
that sailors had more dough than millionaires! 

The easiest way to name all the fighters that were in vaude is to 
take my friend Nate Fleisher's Ring Record or my friend Spink's 
Sporting News and say that 95 per cent of the guys they have men- 
tioned played vaude. Not even excluding my friends Jack Dempsey 
and Jirn Corbett, I don't think any fighter was better liked on 
Broadway than Johnny Dundee, who worked in vaude with his old 
pal Jimmy Hussey. I believe that he knows more vaude actors than 
anybody on Broadway. Jack Johnson, who headlined at Hammer- 
stein's when he was a champ, ended his career just about 50 feet 
across the street at Hubert's Museum, doing twenty shows a day 
with a five-cent admission! Jack Dempsey & Co., in "Roadside 
Razz," written by his old friend Willard Mack, broke records in 
vaude. He did $41,000 at Loew's State (beating the best previous 
record by $12,000). Gene Tunney, who, by the way, broke in his 
act on the Gus Sun Time (as did Dempsey), was billed as "A 
Chap America Is Proud Of." Young Stribling came from a vaude 
family who did an acrobatic act, "The Four Novelty Grahams," 
which consisted of mother, dad, George, and another kid. Kid 

Lefty's Letters 122 

McCoy, a terrific character in and out of the ring, started the 
no-hat craze, claiming it helped grow hair, and almost ruined the 
hat biz and the hat-check rooms. Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, an- 
other Broadway character, ran a gym for chorus gals. Harry Greb 
showed me the night life of Pittsburgh, the night before he fought 
Jimmy Delaney. We got to bed at 10 A.M., and that night he licked 
Delaney. (What a man!) Mickey Walker, who was a great artist 
in the ring and has now become a real fine artist on canvas (with- 
out taking the count), was a great idol of show biz. Mike "Twin" 
Sullivan, a great Boston favorite, would play the old Howard when- 
ever they had a disappointment. Joe Cans, one of the greatest, met 
and was admired by many show folks when he was working at 
Kernan's Hotel, in Baltimore, at the oyster bar. Tony Canzoneri, 
one of our great champs, did his first act at Proctor's Fifth Avenue, 
and later became a great attraction with Joey Adams and Phil 
Plant in a night-club act. Jimmy Britt, who was known among 
actors as the handsomest fighter in tights (he had a swell pair of 
gams) became a pretty good monologist at the Empress Theatre, 
Frisco, way back in 1911. 

Abe Attell, who was one of the first fighters to do a monologue, 
and a good one, talked about Kid Broad. He later did a double 
with Goff Phillips (a fine blackface comic). He also did an act 
with Leach Cross called "A Business Proposition." Speaking about 
Leach Cross (a dentist who put in the teeth he knocked out) , he did 
an act in vaude where his brother, Sam Wallach, announced while 
he showed how he exercised. When asked what he thought about 
vaude he said, "In the theaters it's the same as when I fight: I pack 
the house with people who come to see me lose." Johnny Coulon, 
the bantam champ, did an act in vaude for many years (i la Annie 
Abbott) where he would defy anyone to lift him off the stage. 
Phil Bernstein and Kid Griff o (two well-known local fighters) did 
a real big fight act for one week at Proctor's izjth Street. I did 
the candy butcher for no dough, just to be able to see the act. 
They really had a great "fake" boxing act for vaude but weren't 
known outside of New York. Benny Leonard was the most stage- 
struck fighter in show biz. He could tell very good stories and 
worked in vaude many times, once with Benny Rubin (a fine 
comic), another time with Herman Tirnberg (who was a top Hebe 
comic in "School Days") and also lost some money in a show he 
went out in. I know of no nicer guy, greater fighter, or better 


referee and friend one of the great favorites of vaudevillians. 

Jim Jeffries in 1909 was getting $3,000 a week at the Wigwam 
in Frisco. When he was training for the Johnson fight, he had a 
lot of vaude actors in his camp to keep him in good humor. Eddie 
Leonard and Walter C. Kelly (The Virginia Judge) stuck until 
he was counted out. He had a lot of show biz friends. 

I just must mention a few more of the tops who played vaude. 
Jess Willard got $4,000 a week at Hammerstein's in 1915. Funny, 
he was a big disappointment as a drawing power, while at the 
Palace a style show was packing 'em in! Primo Camera had shoes 
displayed in store windows with signs saying, "These are Primo 
Camera's shoes." They were about size 50 and would fit Jack the 
Giant Killer a phoney, but good showmanship (wish I knew the 
name of the guy that thought it up). There were Max Baer, 
Georges Carpentier, Stanley Ketchell, Jack Britton, Barney Ross 
(a great Broadway favorite), Midget Wolgast, Honey Melody, and 
not forgetting Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom, who is sticking in all 
branches of show biz and is called "Erudite Maxie," a character 
who will be written up in years to come. 

Show biz had some pretty good fighters who were smart enough 
to quit before their profiles were mashed up. Maurice Barrymore, 
the father of the talented trio, was originally a fighter; George 
Fuller Golden, the father of the White Rats and a great monolo- 
gist, started out as a fighter; so did Bobby Gaylor, who was light- 
weight champ of Montana and Colorado; Pat Rooney, Sr., wanted 
to fight, but ended up as one of our great Irish comic song-and- 
dance men! 

To go back a little bit, I want to tell you about Jack Burke, who 
with William McVoy did an act in 1897 called "Fun in a Gym- 
nasium/' Burke fought the longest battle on record with Andy 
Nowman, a mulatto, down in New Orleans. They fought no 
rounds lasting seven hours and twenty minutes; they could not 
continue and the referee called it no contest! Any one of the 
rounds would have made a modern fight. In 1908 Hammerstein's 
featured the Gans-Nelson fight pics. The fight ran twenty-one 
rounds, but Willie cut it to twelve for running time (first time 
anybody cut a fight pic) . Jim Jeffries was the referee. Hanimerstein 
had John P. Dunn, the referee and matchmaker of the Coney 
Island Club, explain the fight to the audience. 

Another odd fight act was about 1906 when B. H. Benton 

Lefty's Letters 124 

(known as Rob Roy) did a monologue on his thirty-five years of 
experience with champs of the ring. He worked in the vaude section 
of the old Howard shows in Boston. He reproduced scenes of the 
gym in the old Cribb Club, and had favorite Boston fighters like 
Matty Baldwin, Jimmy Briggs, Joe Lannon, etc., appear with him. 

France sent over an odd fighting act, Louis Ducasse and George 
Jeannoit, who did an act at Hammerstein's called "La Savette"; 
it was French-style boxing with feet hit and step away. Joe 
Humphries did the announcing. 

In 1926 there was Joop Leit, a Dutch boxer, who when he 
knocked out an opponent sang a hunk of grand opera. He went 
into vaude and was met by laughter at the Alhambra, but he 
didn't care, he kept on singing "Pagliacci." He played a week in 

This I guess will give you an idea of the many boxers that played 
let's say a box-office part in vaude, and some even entertained. 
They were great guys to work with, because they thought they were 
great on the stage and we thought they were great off the stage. 
Fm not afraid of the many champs 7 and near champs 7 names that 
I left out, because by now they've lost their punch. 

Many fighters took a few socks at vaude and usually were 
knocked back into the ring. So now let me tell you about the 
next greatest off-seasonal athletic industry in vaude, baseball! 

After the last game of the baseball season, all the topnotchers 
in the baseball world would take a crack at batting out a few vaude- 
ville fongos, and would stay just long enough to be struck out! 

Hammerstein's was the baseball players' home plate! Most of 
them had to have acts built around them, full of regular vaude 
talent, to get 'em over. There were only a few who had talent. 
Some did monologues, some told about great plays and "inside 
stuff" of the big games they had been in, some danced, some did 
imitations, but most of them sang! 

It was a natural for ball players to sing, because during training 
periods and before and after games they would get together and 
do a bit of "Sweet Adelining" in the clubhouse or on the hotel 
porch. They did this not only for their own amusement but with 
vaude dates in mind. There was big dough in show biz for pennant 
winners or those who stood out in a series or a season. 

Mike Donlin and Mabel Hite were one of the first real baseball 
acts (Mabel Hite had a standard act as a great singing comedienne 


long before she married Mike). They had a number of acts in 
vaude. "Stealing Home" (in 1908, I think) was really a great act 
besides being a drawing card. In 1912 Mike did an act with the 
great comedian, Tom Lewis, who was the originator of the famous 
expression, "Twenty-three" (to which they later added "Skiddoo"; 
it was not in the original George M. Cohan show, Little Johnny 
Jones) . They finished with Tom Lewis on Mike's lap acting as a 
vent dummy and Mike doing the ventriloquist. He also did an act 
with Marty McHale, which proves that the guy made vaude his 
biz after his baseball career was over. Mike finally went to Holly- 
wood and did bits in pics until he couldn't make home plate 
any more. 

Charles Dooin (Philly National catcher) did songs and in 1910 
did a singing and talking act in Dumont's Minstrels in Philly. Joe 
Tinker, the famous short-stop, started doing a monologue, and 
then did a skit, "A Great Catch," in an act with Sadie Sherman. 
Johnny Kling (catcher) did a monologue and a champ billiard 
exhibition act. The great Christy Mathewson and Chief Meyers 
(pitcher and catcher of the famous New York Giants) did a skit 
with May Tulley written for them by the famous sports writer, 
Bozeman Bulger, called "Curves." 

In 1911 Rube Marquard made his vaude debut at Hammer- 
stein's, with Annie Kent. In 1912 he did an act with Blossom 
Seeley (then a headliner in her own right) in a skit, "Breaking the 
Record." They did the Marquard glide. I remember in this act he 
said to the audience, "You wished it on yourselves, so I got nerve 
enough to sing it alone" (and did it very well). Another act of 
theirs was "Nineteen Straight." In 1913 they did an act called 
"The Suffragette Pitcher," in which Blossom made Rube change 
into a dame's dress to pitch for her all-woman team. In 1917 Rube 
did a singing and talking act with Billy Dooley of the famous 
Dooley family. 

John J. McGraw did a monologue on "Inside Baseball," and did 
very well, but didn't go for a vaude route, figuring he would have 
more fun at the Lambs. That same year (1912) there was the 
Boston Red Sox Quartette, with Marty Hale, Tom "Buck" 
O'Brien, Hugh Bradley, and Bill Lyons. Another quartette that 
year was Bill Gleason, George Crable, Tom Dillon, and Frank 
Browning in "Twenty Minutes in the Club House." Hugh Jen- 
nings did an act with Ben Smith (a vet blackface comic) . 

Lefty's Letters 126 

Capt. Adrian C. "Pop" Anson, the dean of baseball, went into 
vaude about 1913 and did a monologue, finishing up with a short 
dance. He liked vaude, because he came back in 1921 with his two 
beautiful daughters in a skit written for them by Ring Lardner 
with songs by Herman Timberg. George Stallings, the "miracle 
man of baseball/' also did a monologue. Hank Gowdy and Dick 
Rudolph did a singing and talking act. I was at the party they gave 
Hank Gowdy up in Boston when he went into service in World 
War I. He was the first baseball player to enlist a great guy. 

There was a fellow by the name of George L. Moreland who 
billed his act "Baseballology"; he answered all questions about 
baseball from as far back as 1846. He showed stills of early base- 
ball players, etc. He knew all the answers. 

Wait Hoyt was practically raised in show biz, as his dad was 
an old-time minstrel man. In 1921 Wait went on the stage with a 
singing act; he had a very nice voice, About seven years later he 
took another vaude plunge (after his season), and had a gal play- 
ing the piano for him who didn't do so bad for herself in show 
biz since then; her name is Hildegarde! She also played for Mickey 
Cochrane, and when she left him the noted composer Freddy Coots 
played for Mickey (they did a swell act). In 1921 Babe Ruth did 
an act with Wellington Cross (Cross & Josephine), a fine artist; 
they had Cliff Dean at the piano. It's a funny thing about the 
Babe in vaude. When he was at his height in baseball and was 
getting a big salary in vaude, he didn't prove to be a drawing card, 
while Jack Dempsey was breaking all records. Showmen explained 
this by saying that people could see Babe Ruth any time for a 
quarter or 50 cents, while it took at least three bucks to see 
Dempsey when he was fighting I They sold Irving Berlin's song, 
"Along Came Ruth/' in the lobby of the Pantages houses when 
the Babe played them. 

Vernon "Lefty" Gomez did a very funny monologue. In 1932 
Al Mamiux (the Newark team manager) did a very good singing 
and talking act. A few years later, in his next time at bat in vaude, 
he had Jimmy Rule at the piano. There was an interclub quartette 
about 1925: George Crable (Brooklyn), Tom Dillon (Macon), 
Frank Browning (Detroit), and Billy Gleason (Galveston). My 
old friend Rabbit Maranville did an act with Eddy McHugh and 
he was as good on the stage as he was on the diamond. Coornbs r 
Morgan, and Bender, world series pitching heroes of the champ 


Athletics, did a skit assisted by Kathryn & Violet Pearl. Later 
Kathryn Pearl did an act with Chief Bender called "Learning the 
Game," by George Totten Smith with music by Arthur Behim. 

Ty Cobb, Germany Schaffer, and Joe Tinker were all in vaude 
about 1911. Mike "King" Kelly did a monologue; he also was with 
Mark Murphy in "O'Dowd's Neighbors." Me and Aggie will never 
forget the time we played in Jersey City with Ford Frick; he was 
then a local radio sportscaster and sports writer and was very popu- 
lar locally. He did something like his broadcast for his act, but 
wanted some laughs to kinda lighten it up a bit. I gave him some 
gags (the wrong ones, because he got laughs with them; we should 
have kept them for ourselves in Jersey). Anyway, Ford didn't do 
bad, leaving vaude to become the czar of organized baseball. He 
is a swell guy in or out of vaude. We say he was a smart guy even 
back in those days; he knew vaude wouldn't last! 

Many of the ball players who played vaude became sports- 
casters when radio got going, players like Bump Hadley (Yankee 
pitcher), Elbie Fletcher (Braves first baseman), Wait Hoyt, 
Frankie Frisch, Harry Heilman (great hitter), Gabby Street, 
Charles Gehringer (Hall of Fame guy), Fred Haney, and of course 
one of the greats, Dizzy Dean (who played the Roxy with his 
brother) . And talking about sportscasters, we had Harry Howell, 
the curve-ball pitcher of the St. Louis Browns, explaining the movie 
of the Chicago-Detroit series in 1908. 

And did you know that B. S. Muckenfuss, who is the owner of 
the great Inter-State Circuit with vaude theaters all through Texas 
and who played all the greats in vaude, was once the secretary of 
the St. Louis Cardinals? He followed E. F. Carruthers as general 
manager of Inter-State, and now owns it. 

But I think the most remarkable man in baseball, as far as show- 
manship goes, is my pal Al Schacht, the "Clown Prince of Base- 
ball/ 7 The guy belongs here because he played in vaude with his 
partner Nick Altrock (they were the originators of baseball clown- 
ing) . In their act they did a lot of comedy bits and Al did what 
he calls the pice de resistance, his imitation of Eddie Leonard 
singing "Roley Boley Eyes/' which started the decline of vaude, The 
reason I say he belongs in a show biz story is that he has played 
to more people personally than anybody in or out of show biz! 
Sounds fantastic, but it's true. I am not counting the guys who 
appear on radio or TV, but personal appearances. Here is his 

Lefty's Letters 12 * 

record; figure it out for yourself. Al Schacht worked in baseball 
from 1910 to 1936 as a pitcher and coach and did clowning for 
the crowds on the side. He also appeared in twenty-seven world 
series and in twelve All-Star games. He has done his clown act all 
over the country every summer from 1937 to now. He did over 
300,000 miles playing for our troops in Korea, New Guinea, East 
Indies, Philippines, Japan, Germany, Austria, Alaska, France, Ice- 
land, etc., doing 790 shows and playing in 310 hospitals. Figure it 
out and tell me anyone that ever played to more people! And now 
as a restaurateur he even plays to crowds in his restaurant. A great 
clown and a great guy! 

There were a lot of vaude actors who were great baseball fans, 
It was the favorite sport of the actors, and many vaude road units 
had baseball teams which would play the stagehands of the towns 
(and get beat) . Nearly all the big Broadway shows had teams rep- 
resenting them, and would sneak in a ringer pitcher, usually Sammy 
Smith, a song publisher who pitched in the big leagues, or Jack 
Conway, critic on Variety. I remember when the National Variety 
Artists were trying to get a team together to try and beat the Cohan 
& Harris team. The manager asked an acrobat, "Will you play 
third base?" and the acrobat said, "How big a jump is it?" 

Yep, there were a lot of ball players in vaude; some hit home 
runs, and others went to the showers followed by vaudeville! 

There were a lot of professional athletes in vaude besides fighters 
and ball players. There were wrestlers who played many a catclvas- 
catch-can date in vaude. Again Hammerstein's was the main mat 
for the grunt artists. Wrestling in those days was a lot different 
than it is today. Nobody sang about it being a fake. Everybody 
took the championship bouts as seriously as championship fights. 
It received big newspaper coverage, and so was duck soup for cer- 
tain theaters, like Hammerstein's (and of course burly houses), A 
wrestling champ was a national figure. I'm talking about the days 
of George Bothner, Hackenschmidt, Frank Gotch, Strangler Lewis, 
and a few others. In 1908 Frank Gotch did a skit with Emil Klank 
called "All About a Bout"; they didn't have to talk much (thank 
God) ! Hitachuyma did Jap wrestling, and there was the Royal 
Jiujitsu Troupe and the Tomita Jiujitsu Troupe and Miyakee, who 
demonstrated jiujitsu, that started the craze in America. To prove 
that all Japs weren't tiny, they sent Sumo, giant Jap wrestler who 
was over six and a half feet and weighed about 300 pounds. There 


was Job Josefsson's Icelandic Troupe, who showed the secret sports 
of Iceland (why they were secret I don't know), gilma, self-defense 
fighting, and wrestling with the feet. These attractions were bally- 
hooed and weie box-office, especially at Hammerstein's. They were 
novel and interesting, but they usually ended up in a burly show, 
because there wasn't enough interest in vaude except for "spot" 

There were novelty wrestling attractions that became standard 
vaude acts, like the Bennett Sisters (not the Hollywood Bennetts) . 
In 1908 May Harris, a female wrestler, appeared at Hammerstein's, 
and a few years before that a Female International Wiestling 
Troupe disbanded because of the death of one of the members; 
eleven went back to Europe. As a showwoman Cora Livingston 
was the greatest of 'em all. (So you thought those woman wrestlers 
on TV were new, eh?) I believe that Hackenschmidt and Stiangler 
Lewis were the best wrestling box-office attractions. 

Golfers didn't overlook hitting the vaudeville green. It was a 
hard act to put over, because the average audience didn't know 
much about the game, no more than they knew about polo. They 
admired the skill of the artist, realizing it must be hard to do, but 
didn't go applause-crazy about it. The only way vaude could enjoy 
this type act was with comedy. So nearly all of the golfers (trick- 
shot experts) used a stooge, usually the comic on the bill (who got 
paid off in golf lessons). Alec Morrison was the first golf act. His 
comedy partner was Flanagan (of Flanagan & Edwards). Jack 
Redmond, Jack Kirkwood, Paul Jacobson, Gene Sarazen, and John 
Farrell stuck on the fairway of vaude pretty well. They all used the 
trick shots, shooting balls from a watch, etc., and the comedy was 
shooting the ball from the mouth of a very frightened comedian. 
Most of these champs were booked because someone in the book- 
ing office wanted to learn how to improve his game. We had some 
pretty good golfers in vaude; Charles Leonard Fletcher was the 
first actor to take up the game seriously, and Fred Astaire played 
it when he was a kid. The golf acts became more popular in the 
later days of vaude but then it was too late! 

Because of the tremendous publicity which reacted favorably at 
the till, the marathon winners drew big audiences. Again Hammer- 
stein's was the finishing line. John J. Hayes, winner of the mara- 
thon, played a few weeks later at Hammerstein's. He opened his 
act showing pictures of himself winning the race, and then came on 

Lefty's Letters l * 

for a bow. Dorando, who beat Hayes in 1908, was a sensational 
draw through great publicity and a tremendous Italian following; 
they even wrote a song about him. He appeared with his brother 
(who was his trainer) at Hammers tein's, and Loney Haskell, acting 
as M.C., introduced them to the audience. They both came out 
dressed in old-style European street clothes that needed pressing; 
the tight pants had "apples" in the knees and they really looked 
very funny by Broadway standards. Loney told the audience how 
Dorando won, how he trained, what he ate, etc., while Dorando 
and his brother just stood there. Finally at the finish of the spiel 
he asked the audience were there any questions? Ren Shields, a 
wit and a Hammerstein habitue, yelled out, "Yes, ask him who 
made his brother's clothes?" It broke up the opening matinee. 

Every six-day bicycle-race winner played Hammerstein's. Elkes & 
McFarland, Walthour & McEachern, Leaner & Krebs, Root & Dor- 
Ion, Root & Fogler, Rutt & Stoll, Rutt & Clark, Goulette & Fogler, 
McNarnarra, and many more runners-up. They all did about the 
same act, riding treadmills on either side of the stage for a mile 
race with clocks showing how they were doing, and of course in the 
last quarter they'd make it real exciting, like a sprint, dividing the 
"wins" for the week between them. Good thrill and good show- 
manship. These acts were only a draw the week following their win 
at Madison Square Garden. 

Even tennis was represented in vaude, by Big Bill Tilden with a 
monologue. It was a good thing that after his act he didn't have to 
jump over a net and congratulate the audience for winning, if you 
know what I mean. Tennis those days was as strange to vaude audi- 
ences as was football. Someone once asked why football players 
didn't go into vaude? And Tommy Gray, a writer and wit, said, 
"By the time their injuries are healed, the vaude season is over." 
Those were the days when the starting team members stayed in the 
game until they were carried off. I am not sure, but the only real 
great football player I recall playing in vaude was Red Grange, who 
played a sketch called "Number 77" (which was his number). He 
was a big box-office attraction. He played in one game in California 
on percentage, and received $67,000 as his share. 

There were also a few jockeys who played vaude; yop, the starting 
gate was at Hammerstein's. Tod Sloan, one of the greatest jockeys 
of his time, did a monologue written for him by George M. Cohan 
(who later wrote Little Johnny Jones, which was practically the 


story of Tod Sloan.) Tod had a sister, Blanche Sloan, who did an 
aerial act and received a lot of publicity because of her brother, but 
made good on her own and became a standard act for many years 
after Tod was gone. Garrison, who used to finish races with a fast 
finish (from which we got the expression, "a Garrison finish") did 
an act for a short time. Tommy Meade, a good boy on or off a horse, 
had a fine voice and was in vaude for a long time, working with 
different partners. There was a good jockey by the name of Tony 
Francisco who was a hound for the Charleston and played a few 
weeks doing it in front of a jazz band, which played him right back 
to the starting gate at the track. 

It was 1926 when the Channel swimmers started their free-style 
crawl into vaudel The first of the women channel swimmers was 
Gertrude Ederle, and she cleaned up as to money and playing 
time, receiving $100,000 for twenty weeks. The second woman to 
do it was Mrs. Mille Gade Corson; she did pretty good, but being 
second cut her earnings in half; then Ernest Vierkotte and many 
others did it, and flooded the market. There was also a whole 
"school" of 'em who tried to swim the channel and failed, or who 
were going to swim it, or something. The small time picked these 
up here and there. They certainly made a big splash in vaude for a 
while. But it was a gal like Annette Kellerman, who wore a skin- 
fitting suit instead of grease, who outlasted all of ? em in vaude. 

Billiard and pool champs chalked up their cues for vaudeville 
routes. They too, like golfers, had a limited audience, although 
their trick shots were interesting to laymen. They were no box-office 
draw, but they did empty the pool rooms and fill the balconies with 
the brethren. There were a few outstanding exhibition players and 
champs who played vaude for many seasons. Charles C. Peterson 
was the greatest trick-shot billiardist. Willie Hoppe went into 
vaude when he was the eighteen-year-old champ. Eric Hagen- 
lacher, the German 18.2 billiard champ, played six weeks on the 
Orpheum Circuit. George Sutton played without arms. Bob Connc- 
fax (billiards and pool) worked with Benny Rubin, the comedian, 
as a foil. Then there were Fred Tallman (pool), Walter Cocharane, 
Frank Taberski (pool), and of course Hammers tein would always 
play the champ of the year. 

In the early days of variety the audience really went for athletic 
actsclub swingers, bag punchers, boxers, wrestlers. They all 
brought big crowds because of the audience-participation angle. 

Lefty's Letters 132 

The so-called champs would challenge anybody in the theater to 
get up to fight, swing clubs, wrestle, punch bags, etc., for a reward 
they would announce as $1,000 (they didn't take in that much in a 
week) . So you can imagine what chance you had to win. They had 
more gimmicks than a carnival at a county fair. Walking contests 
were very popular. "The heel and toe/' sez my friend Frank C. 
Menke, "means you put weight quickly on the toe 7 which acts as 
the take-off spot for the next stride. The regular walker would do a 
mile in twelve to fifteen minutes, while the heel-and-toe speedster 
would do it in about sbc minutes and thirty seconds. 77 Edward 
Payson Weston finished his walk from Los Angeles to New York 
and walked right into a route in vaudeville. George N. Brown, 
who was billed as a champ heel-and-toe walker, did a great act in 
vaude for many years with his regular partner, Pete Goldman, but 
he would take the comic on the bill and get a lot of laughs with 
him. Pat Rooney would be booked on the same shows with him 
so he would be able to work in Brown's act They would work on 
a treadmill (a la the bicycle riders) and make it pretty close, 
besides getting a lot of laughs. 

There was a fellow called Young Miles at Pastor's who was a 
champ walker. He'd get a timekeeper from the audience and the 
stage manager would call the laps as Young Miles would walk 
around the stage. If you remember how tiny the stage was at 
Pastor's, you can just imagine how dizzy he (and the audience) 
got. He did a mile in eight minutes! 

The best all-round athlete in and of show biz was Fred Stone. 
I wrote you about the acrobats, etc., but these I mentioned here 
were the pros and special attractions! SEZ 

Your pal, 


A Fair Exchange 

Dear Joe, 

England had variety shows fifty years before we did over here 
and they have outlasted our vaudeville already by a quarter of a 
century! Vaude over there today is going bigger than ever, not only 


doing big biz but upholding the traditions. The English have been 
loyal to their artists and to vaudeville while we haven't. Over there 
when you become a favorite, you stay that way in their hearts, re^ 
gardless of age and failing talents. In America you remained a 
favorite as long as you remained a hit; when you flopped you were 
soon forgotten by both the bookers and the public. Of course when 
you were a hit in America, it paid off a hundred times more than 
in England, but all the artists in America had, after years of giving 
pleasure to thousands, was money, while the artist in England has 
the love and affection of the people they have made gay and happy 
and are sure of a warm welcome whenever or wherever they appearl 
(And they also have dough.) Take your "cherce." 

England sent us most of their great artists and they were wel- 
comed here with open arms and purses. Harry Lauder, Wilkie 
Bard, Albert Chevalier, George Lashwood, Clifton Crawford, 
Beatrice Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, Alice Lloyd, Vesta Victoria, 
Arthur Prince, Vesta Tilley, Grade Fields, Will Fyfe, Cinquevalli, 
R. A. Roberts, Bransby Williams, and so many more that I will 
write you about later. 

Much of Lauder's success in America (besides his great talent) 
was due to the great showmanship and management of William 
Morris, Sr., who managed him from 1905, when Lauder Erst came 
over for Klaw & Erlanger Advanced Vaudeville (brought over by 
H. B. Marinelli). When Morris took him on his first tour, he put 
on a big publicity campaign that showed how stingy Lauder was 
(it was started by Jack Lait) and which wasn't true, but Lauder as 
a good showman went along with the gag, realizing it was great 
publicity. Lauder gave thousands of dollars to wartime causes and 
other charities, gave the receipts of two shows a week to the Red 
Cross, and did hundreds of benefits during and after World War I. 
Me and Aggie will never forget the Christmas Eve we spent with 
Sir Harry and William Morris, Sr., in Parkerburg, West Virginia. 
Toward the end of the evening he said, "Lefty, would you like a 
wee doch an' dorris?" And I, being a drinking man, especially on 
Christmas in a small town, said, "Fd love it, Sir Harry/ 7 and he 
sang it\ I thought he meant oh well, I finally bought niy own 
drink! He was a grand gentleman and artist and every theater he 
played in America still echoes with the strains of "She Is My 
Daisy" and "RoamirV in the GloaniinV 7 

Wilkie Bard, another great artist, first came over here in the 

Lefty's Letters m 

early 19005 and played at Hammerstein's and was a terrific hit. He 
got $3,250 a week (a mighty sum those days) . His friends told him 
not to come to America because he would be a flop, as there were 
many imitations of him and many acts who had stolen his mate- 
rial over here. He took four weeks to prove to himself that he could 
get over. He sang his famous "Nightwatchman," "Hail, Smilin' 
Morn," and his wonderful "Chrysanthemums." He was the talk of 
the town. He came back to play the Palace in 1919, and flopped; he 
quit in the middle of the week, but went back when Sime, the 
publisher of Variety, told him to rearrange his routine. He did and 
got over big and finished his route in America a hit! 

Albert Chevalier came to America long before Lauder and Bard. 
He first played at Koster and Bial's and was a great hit. He came 
back a half a dozen times and headlined all over America. He sang 
many songs 7 but the song that will be ever green in the hearts and 
memories of all American vaude fans was "My Old Dutch. 7 ' 

There were many aristocrats of the two-a-day that our cousins 
sent over to us, and me and Aggie knew many of 'em personally 
and loved 'em. Great artists like Will Fyfe, who many claim was 
even greater than Lauder (but I claim you can't be greater than 
great and Lauder was great) ! Albert Whelan, a great entertainer, 
had the sole rights from Mark Sheridan, the original owner of 
"Three Trees/' but Tom McNaughton and many more over here 
used it. I can rattle off dozens of great English acts that did big 
over here. Was there ever a funnier man than Bert Clark (Clark & 
Hamilton)? Griff (the juggler), Charles Irwin, Chris Richards, 
Handis & Millis, Lillian Ashley, Marie Lloyd, Lillian Morris, Daisy 
Harcourt, the Lupinos, Ada Reeve, Lottie Collins, Loie Fuller, 
J. P. Huntley (I can see him now buying the gun in that gun shop), 
Wee Georgie Wood, Gracie Fields, Laddie Cliff, Vesta Victoria, 
Cissie Loftus, Charlie Chaplin, and the McNaughtons are some of 
the blue bloods of the " 'alls" they gave to America, who not only 
brought artistry to us and taught the American single women to 
use restricted songs, but were great ambassadors of friendship. 

But me and Aggie also remember the flopperoos we exchanged. 
Tn 1913 at Hammerstein's we saw Lord Kenneth Douglas Lome 
MacLaine, who claimed he took the date to help pay off a $190,000 
mortgage on his large estate in Scotland. He sang (his singing 
couldn't pay off a mortgage on a bird bath) . After a few weeks he 
quit and took a job as keeper of the hounds at Meadow Brook 


Hunt Club. He said, "It is steadier." That same year Lady Con- 
stance Stewart Richardson danced at Hammerstein's. Seems all the 
titled people were playing Hammerstein's. They had a certain draw; 
society went to fawn on 'em and the common people went to take 
a peek. 

Cruickshank, an English musical clown, did one show at the 
Palace, and went back to England after the matinee. A few years 
later Wish Wynne, a fine artist, played the Riverside with tiny 
billing and her name left out of the ads. Never before was a great 
performer like her given this treatment ( I don't know the reason, 
if there was any). But she more than made good later on all the 
big-time bills. 

Maude Allen's first appearance was fair; then she came over in 
1916 with a large company of "classical" dancers and did a terrible 
flopperoo. There were many more that flopped or just got by, but 
Td rather talk about the hits. You will find a lot about them in my 
other letters under the different type acts. 

We sent many an act from America that made good in England, 
and also many that "took the boat Wednesday." Mclntyre & 
Heath, who were our greatest blackface act, got "the bird" at the 
Hippodrome in London. They did their "Georgia Minstrels/* 
which was too slow, then changed to "Waiting at the Church/' 
doing a bit better, but still no good. They did real darky characters 
that the English weren't familiar with. They got paid off for four 
weeks and only played one. Bert Fitzgibbons only worked four days 
and went home. He was too much like Frank Tinney (who was a 
big hit before him). Other "nut acts," like Fitzgibbons, also 
flopped. Acts like James J. Morton, Neil McKinley, and Jack 
Wilson (he played only one show) all came too early. Acts like 
Happy Jack Gardner, Nora Bayes, Elizabeth Murray, Edmund 
Hayes (he had too much American slang) , Rock & Fulton, Trovato, 
Pauline, the hypnotist (they thought he was trying to put some- 
thing over on ? em), the Big City Four (1908 was too soon for a 
straight singing quartette), Evelyn Nesbit (whom they sat through 
quietly) and many many more didn't get over. In most cases it was 
bad judgment in the selection of material, which the English just 
didn't understand, like we in America couldn't understand many 
of their artists. (Some of their single women couldn't use their 
best songs over here because they were very blue for America, but 

Left/ a Letters 136 

were a big hit in England.) In 1919 they didn't like the shimmy 
and sat through it quietly. (They were right.) 

But we also sent them R. G. Knowles and Joe Coyne. Knowles 
went over for a few weeks and I believe stayed fifteen years; Joe 
Cope went over for a few weeks and stayed forty years. Jordan & 
Harvey, one of the first Jewish comic acts, and York & Adams, an- 
other great team, were terrific, and Julian Rose, who went to Eng- 
land when his act was practically finished over here, became a big hit 
and started a new career over there. Bonita & Lew Hearn were a 
big hit over there both in vaude and revues. Will Mahoney and 
Frank Tinney were sensations. Jack Norworth stayed there during 
World War I in shows and vaude and was a big hit. Grant Gardner 
& Marie Stoddard, one of the early American comedy piano acts, 
were a big hit. Frank Orth & Ann Codee, the Duncan Sisters, 
Williams & Walker, and Avery & Hart all were sensational. J. Rosa- 
mond Johnson (Cole & Johnson) and Alf Grant did fine, 

Herb Williams, when he saw his billing in London as the "fun- 
niest man in the world," demanded they take it down before he 
opened; with that kind of billing you have two strikes on you before 
you even say a word. He was a tremendous hit when he opened. 
(When Williams & Wolfus played there years earlier, they weren't 
received very well.) Arthur Tracy, the Street Singer, was a big 
favorite and could have stayed there for years. Riggs & Witchie, the 
famous dance team, went over big. Al Trahan, who appeared in a 
command performance (a great honor for an American act) , was a 
riotj and billed himself over here as the "man who made the king 
laugh/ 7 George Fuller Golden was one of the first monologists and 
ambassadors of laughter we sent over I'll bet he is still remem- 
bered over there (but not here). Fred Niblo did very big. Smith & 
Dale (the Avon Comedy Four) were tops on the first all- American 
bill over there. York & King went over big. Friend & Downing, who 
played all the Big Time over here, became terrific favorites over 
there and remained for most of their vaude career. 

Harry Green went over on spec and remained to become one of 
the real big favorites both in vaude and shows. Kimberly & Page 
went over on spec many years ago and have only come back to 
America to visit. Fred Duprez also became established in England. 
Doyle & Dixon were a bit hit with their classy dancing act. The 
Mosconis danced into the English hearts, and Collins & Hart, with 
their burly strong act, were just perfect for the English, Clark & 


McCullough could have stayed there forever. Jarrow and his lemon 
trick, Moran & Weiser with their hats, the Three Swifts with their 
clubs, and of course Van Hoven with his "ice" were just sensa- 

The real old-time American acts that went over in the early 
igoos really did the pioneering; they set the scene for the many 
that followed. Some of them had it pretty tough and many of them 
found booking easier to get than in America. Conditions there 
were entirely different than here. They had playor-pay contracts 
that you just couldn't break. Performers carried little date books 
that showed them where they would play two and three years 
ahead. There was a case in England where a Charles Stevens was 
booked fifty-two weeks a year for eight years with no open dates. 
That was in 1912, when an act in America was lucky to get ten 
solid weeks. 

Some of the first American acts were Barton & Ashley, Mike S. 
Whalen, Fanny Fields, Terry & Lambert, Maude Courtney, O. K, 
Sato, Belle Davis & Picks, Margaret Ashton, and Dan & Jessie 

We sent over many acts that made good but couldn't accept 
bookings because of salary differences. Irene Franklin did big, but 
demanded too much money, as did Taylor Granville, George 
Beban, and the Four Bards. THAT Quartette had to split the 
act because they couldn't get their dough. 

The Two Bobs and the American Ragtime Octette started rag- 
time in England about 1913. The Two Bobs are still over there, a 
big hit on and off the stage. Rinaldo was the first American violin- 
ist to attract attention; ragtime made him a hit! Maude Tiffany 
also bowled 'em over with ragtime. "Coon" songs made a terrific 
hit in London about 1907, so much so that the English writers 
started writing their own coon songs! One gal, I believe Clara 
Alexander, sang a song, "Way Down in North Dakota." Another 
sang an American song and, instead of singing "Down in Atlanta, 
G d," sang it "Down in Atlanta, Gaaa." But don't forget they have 
names of towns that it would take three Americans to pronounce 
(and then couldn't do it). 

When war was declared over there in 1914, many acts couldn't 
leave London. Salaries were paid in paper money, which was hard 
to exchange. Managers canceled all German acts, so one of them 
opened under Jap names and make-up. There were over 1 50 Ameri* 

Lefty's Letters 138 

can acts in London and managers were cutting salaries 30 to 50 
per cent. They were cutting salaries in America too, because over 
two hundred American and three hundred European acts arrived 
and flooded the market. Some of them came via steerage. In spite 
of its being wartime, the English managers made more dough 
than they ever had and declared big dividends (as did the Ameri- 
can managers). 

English managers and agents began advertising in American 
trade papers for American acts, telling them not to be afraid of 
submarines or mines, there was plenty of work for good acts, etc. 
Many took a chance and went over because of salary cuts here. 
Actors had a tough time getting passports. In 1916 they were still 
advertising for acts. One ad read, "Safe in England for Americans. 
Air and sea cleared of danger. Zeps stopped during winter by 
new guns and cold high altitude. Eight Germans frozen in Zep 
during last air raid. Sea freed from subs by English control." But 
many American acts weren't interested because of the big English 
tax bite, which cut salaries in half. George Robey, one of England's 
greatest comics and top taxpayer in 1918, paid $60,000 (our Mary 
Pickford paid $300,000 that year over here) . 

In 1919 the talk about international exchange of acts died out 
because of the high income tax and the low exchange on the 
pound. In 1935 William Morris held a special showing of twenty 
vaude acts for English bookers at the Biltmore Hotel, with orches- 
tra, etc., because there were no vaude theaters over here for showing 

The biggest hits we sent over there, besides the ones I've men- 
tioned, were Charles T. Aldrich, Jim Corbett, Houdini, Bellclaire 
Bros., Joe Jackson, the Four Fords, Elsie Janis, W. C- Fields, Al 
Trahan, Hildegarde, Van & Schenck, Will Rogers, and of course 
the one and only Sophie Tuckerl 

Yop, me and Aggie think it was a fair exchange, SEZ 

Your pal, 




Dear Joe, 

I have written you before that the blackface performers were the 
first acts in variety. The Negro as a comic figure was popular after 
the Civil War, and besides it was an easy thing to put on "black/ 7 
a pair of big shoes, and old misfit clothes no outlay for wardrobe, 
and when you were in blackface you at least felt like and looked like 
a professional actor! 

After a while many performers "washed up/' or took off the cork, 
and went into other characterizations Irish, Jewish, Italian but 
the minstrels who went into vaude and had a rep as blackface 
comics stuck to their make-ups and identification. In the early days 
of variety everybody was trying to get away from the cork because 
there were so many of them, and naturally the smart ones tried to 
break away so they would be "different" and so get better dough 
and billing. 

When vaude was in its Golden Age, blackface again became 
popular. Nearly all the singles started to do blackface, but it wasn't 
like the old-time minstrels who tried to portray a character; these 
new minstrels just put on "black" and talked "white." No dialect, 
didn't even try, in fact some of them told Hebe stories in black- 
face! For what reason they blacked up will never be known, except 
to hide some awful-looking pans I Just like many Jewish boys did 
Irish and Dutch in early days of variety, all the boys, Jewish, Irish, 
German, and Italian, took up blackface comedy. It became a craze. 
Maybe it was because a guy in blackface could get away with many 
things he couldn't in white face. People figured you were an 
"actor" when you had black on. And besides, working in white 
face demanded a personality, which many of the guys didn't have, 
but when blackened up with a big white mouth they looked funny 
and got over easier. They dressed in regular street clothes and didn't 
even try to do characterizations! The old minstrels wept! 

There were still a few old-time minstrels who did the Negro 
dialect and mannerisms and portrayed the Negro as he was. The 
tops in our memory were Jim Mclntyre and Tom Heath, who did 

Lefty's Letters l & 

many acts in vaude, trying to keep up to date, but "The Georgia 
Minstrels" was the classic of them all, and as far as me and Aggie 
are concerned the greatest of all the blackface acts! No slapstick, 
just fine characterizations and belly laughs. They were the oldest 
two-man act in vaude- teamed in 1874. They very seldom spoke to 
each other, except for business reasons. They lived in d fferent 
hotels when possible. One was a bottle man and the other liked 

They were without a doubt the deans of all blackface acts. They 
were in variety and vaude most of their professional careers took 
a few detours in minstrel and one Broadway show (The Ham 
Tree), but always came back to their first love, vaudeville. Tom 
was the straight man while Jim played the conr'c. A guy by the 
name of Butler was Mclntyre's first partner. While playing a 
honky-tonk, Butler had to leave town suddenly. There are a lot of 
stories why; some say he was shot at by the natives of San Antonio 
because he wore a high hat; others say he was shot at because he 
had his pants off woman trouble. Anyway, Tom Heath, who was 
on the same show, joined Jim Mclntyre and they stuck together 
all through the years, unto their deaths. Jim Mclntyre went first 
on August 18, 1937, and Tom Heath followed him August 19, 1938. 

I'll never forget the time Tom Heath and I were sitting in the 
lobby of the Hollis Chambers in Boston, looking out the big front 
window (hotels those days had big store windows and the sales- 
men and actors would sit there and give the local gals the eye). 
Tom was a tobacco chewer, and my foot was near the big brass 
cuspidor. I was afraid to pull my foot away for fear he would think 
I was underestimating his aim. (Remember, I was a kid and he was 
a big star.) He certainly had me nervous for an hour, but he proved 
just as big a star at spittin* tobacco juice as he was on the stage; he 
never missed the cuspidor once! 

Fox & Ward were together even longer than Mclntyre & Heath, 
but were not as well known. They did an ordinary blackface act 
and became popular because of their long partnership. When they 
were together fifty years, E. F. Albee gave them a route (and plenty 
of publicity for the Keith Circuit) for $350 a week. They were very 
fine gentlemen, never argued, and played out the string together. 

The big-hit blackface act to follow Mclntyre & Heath were 
Conroy & LeMaire -Conroy, a fine comic with a high squeaky 
voice (& la Tom Heath, but no copy), and George LeMaire, one 


of the greatest straight men in show biz. They changed their act 
every few years, but "The Pinochle Fiends'* was one of their best. 

Kaufman Bros. (Jack and Phil) were an old team who depended 
more on their fine singing voices than on their comedy. Irving 
joined his brother when Jack died. Irving Kaufman, I believe, has 
made more recordings than anybody in show biz thousands of 
them under all kinds of names. You know him best as the man who 
sang the French commercial on radio about Martin wine. 

Dan Quinland & Kellar Mack (later Quinland & Richards) were 
two old minstrel men who did a very funny act called "The Travel- 
ing Dentist." Dan was one of the greatest of all interlocutors, stood 
over six feet, had a booming voice, a fine vocabulary, and was a 
handsome guy (even when he was in the seventies). Haynes & 
Vidoq did a swell blackface act. Wood & Shepherd were one of the 
greatest blackface musical acts. 

As for the single men in blackface, there were hundreds of 'em. 
Jack Norworth (later Bayes & Norworth) started in show biz as a 
blackface monologist and singer; he called his act "The Jailhouse 

Al Jolson (Jolson, Palmer & Jolson) did the part of a bellboy in 
the act in white face and didn't get over until J. Francis Dooley 
(Dooley & Sales), on the bill with them, suggested that Al blacken 
up. He did, and from then on Al did black; no dialect just did a 
Northerner's idea of a Negro dialect. He didn't do bad with it. His 
brother Harry did blackface later. 

One of the greats was George "Honey Boy" Evans (got his nick- 
name through singing Norworth's song, "Honey Boy"). He did a 
corking monologue and was a headliner for years, and also starred 
in shows. 

Lew Dockstader, the famous minstrel in whose shows many of 
the great entertainers served their apprenticeships, was one of the 
tops of the blackface singles. He later took off the cork and worked 
in white face. 

Eddie Cantor, who worked in blackface all through vaude and 
in the Ziegfeld Frolics, worked in white face in the Ziegfeld Follies 
and shows, but by some trick of the plot always finished the show 
ters and a great wife called Ida! ^ __^~ ^^ 

There "if fa Tot of BlacHace acsT"wrote you about and will teU 
in blackface. He didn't do bad, for a guy with five beautiful daugh- 
you about under different headings -two-man acts, entertainers, 

Lefty's Letters 142 

monologists, etc. But here are a few names that come to mind that 
were real good: Bert Swor, Rawls & Von Kaufman, Ben Smith, 
Emil Subers, Swor & Mack (the original of Moran & Mack), John 
Swor & West Avery, Spiegel & Dunn, George Thatcher, Bill Van, 
Neil O'Brien (who did singles, doubles, and sketches and who at 
this writing is the only top minstrel still alive a real great trouper) , 
Pistel & Gushing, Jay C. Flippen, Jack George Duo, Lew Hawkins, 
Lou Holtz, Al Herman, Hufford & Chain, John Hazzard (who later 
wrote 'Turn to the Right"), Mel Klee, Kramer & Morton, Mackin 
& Wilson (Francis Wilson years later became a Broadway star and 
the first president of Actors' Equity), Amos 'n' Andy (who went 
under the name of Sam 'n' Henry), Coakley & McBride, Hugh 
Dougherty (who did one of the first stump speeches), and many 
many more I will tell you about later. 

While on this subject, when Frank Tinney (one of our greatest 
blackface comics) played London, he was a terrific hit. He had to 
make out an income-tax return over there and when the authorities 
saw an item of $750 for burnt cork (used for make-up), an English 
gentleman of the income-tax bureau came to visit our Frank. "My 
dear Mr. Tinney, we just cawn't understand your item of $750 for 
burnt cork; surely it doesn't cost that much for plain burnt cork?" 
Tinney looked at him with a typical Tinney look (like a kid that's 
been caught stealing jam) and said, "But my dear man, I use 
champagne corksl" 

This same gag was later used (with a twist) by a certain bur- 
lesque comic who charged $500 for nose putty. When asked why 
such an absurd amount, he said, "Ah, but I put a spangle on my 
nose!" (I still claim Tinney's answer was funnier and earlier.) 

The old-time blackface acts are now washed up; there isn't a 
blackface act today in show biz (except when the Elks put on a 
minstrel show), but they are not washed up in our memories, SEZ 

Your pd y 




Dear Joe, 

Me and Aggie are kinda proud of show biz and its people, and 
especially proud of the many show folks who raised a family under 
tougher conditions than average people do. They had to keep work- 
ing and that meant plenty traveling, and that's tough on grown 
folks, so you can imagine what it does to kids! Some left the kid 
with the in-laws, or a good aunt, or even a cousin, or many times 
had to board the kid with strangers. Those who weren't lucky 
enough to have relations (if you can call having relations lucky) 
or couldn't afford to pay for boarding the kids just had to take 'em 
on the road. Many of the kids were left with the boardinghouse 
lady, or the chambermaid, or even the bellboy at the hotel (the 
first baby sitters) while the parents went on at the local theater. 
In those days they didn't have any formulas, or if they did, actors 
didn't know about it; all they knew were routines. 

The kid was gotten up at all hours of the night to make trains, 
and after making the trains, the family had to sit up in a day coach 
to save dough. The theatrical baby was raised on a formula of 
candy, popcorn, sips of coffee, and smoke rings. Anything to keep 
the kid quiet so he wouldn't wake up the people who were trying 
to get some shut-eye. In the company cars on which the actors on 
circuits would ride (the whole show in one car), the kids of course 
had the run of the car (and the train). All the actors would cater 
to the kids, if you can call stuffing them with candy and fruit cater- 
ing. The old guys would figure they should of had a kid and maybe 
wouldn't have had to work any more. The older gals just showered 
unused motherly love on 'em. And the younger guys told 'em gags 
and taught them a time step, figuring these kids were different 
than regular kids and had to be "smarted up." The dirty stories 
and bad words picked up on the tour were from outsiders, not from 
actors, who were always careful with their talk and conduct when 
"the kid" was around. 

Naturally, the parents were proud when the kid imitated some 
act; they felt the youngster might become a great "somebody" in 

Lefty 9 s Letters 144 

show biz some day, something they'd been struggling for years to 
be and never made it. Me and Aggie have heard hundreds of actor 
parents say, "If this kid grows up to be an actor, I'll kill him/ 7 But 
if the kid showed no signs of talent, they would grieve. A lawyer 
would like to see his son become a good lawyer, the same with a 
doctor, baseball player, etc., and if they don't the father is especially 
disappointed. With show folks, if the kid turns out to be a lawyer, 
doctor, engineer, or a banker, they are proud but very dis- 

Many a show biz kid have we "baby-sitted" while their parents 
were out "making a buck," playing a club or date. Many a kid we 
and the other acts on the bill "rocked" to sleep singing "St. Louis 
Blues" while their parents were on stage. (Now you know regular 
kids don't get that kind of lullaby!) Many an act's kid we gave a 
bath to, because we had a bathroom with hot water, and their 
parents at the boardinghouse didn't. (We went back to those 
public baths later.) One of the greatest kicks is to bathe a youngster 
about three years old; you play "seal" with him, throw him the 
sponge, and tell him it's a fish. They were show kids and belonged 
to all of us. Around Christmas time everybody on the bill would go 
all out for the kid on the bill! They would get the most useless 
presents anybody ever got, because everybody bought what he 
wanted when he was a kid! 

Some of the kids grew up smart, some too smart, and there's 
nothing worse in the world than a show kid that's smart and fresh! 
A show kid seemed to grow older faster than regular kids. The kids 
got tired waiting in the wings, and eventually Pop and Mom would 
take them out for a bow, not that they wanted to commercialize 
the kid (although I know many times the baby taking a bow 
saved the act many's the time me and Aggie could have used a 
kid). But the parents wanted to show off to the town people that 
they too were "family" people and had a kid. Of course a "traveling 
kid" sort of itched to get on the stage. So it was a short step from 
just taking a bow to letting the kid do a bit. They usually knew 
everybody's act word for word and could imitate anybody (fresh 
memories), so when they did something real good, the parents 
were kinda proud, and instead of standing 'em up in a parlor to 
recite to the company, they would stick 'em on the stage to do it 
in front of an audience, and if it was good, they'd keep it in the act 
(where there were no laws against it) . Many of the kids when they 


grew up lost their talent and voices at the time when it really 
counted. Those who had talent were sometimes used by parents 
to keep their "old act" alive. They naturally "pushed" the kid, 
who made it possible for them to stay on the stage; most of these 
acts were booked because the kid would put the act over in spite of 
the parents being passe. 

Other acts kept their kids off the stage and put them in boarding 
schools and military academies, figuring the kid would be a big guy 
in some other line, and praying all the time he wouldn't! I'm teli- 
ing you about kids that were weaned on applause and educated 
on the show biz Three Rs 7 gags, singing, and a time step! Some of 
7 em made more dough at the age of eight than most bank presi- 
dents. Jackie Coogan, Jane and Kathryn Lee, Jackie Cooper, Mickey 
Rooney, Mary Pickford, etc. etc. 

A stage mother starts out like regular mothers but soon becomes 
a combination manager, house detective, tigress fighting for her 
young, banker, and live chastity belt! She fights with everybody for 
the rights of or fancied wrongs to her offspring, running to get 
the proper billing, good spot on the bill, best dressing room, and 
an easy future for the kid . . . and Mom\ Mothers of vaude kids 
are seven degrees worse than nonworking husbands of celebs. An 
agent can kick a husband out if he gets too tough, but he can't do 
that with a vaude mother (she's liable to throw him out) . The only 
escape for the agent is to book the kid out of town and get rid of 
'em both! There are three kinds of stage mothers, the non-pro, 
the ex-pro, and the "working mom/ 7 Years ago Ned Wayburn 
offered a prize to anyone who could make a "mother powder" 
something to sprinkle on the stage mother and she would drop 
dead, or at least disappear. Nobody ever got the prize. We had a 
lot of S.M.s years ago in vaude. Some were swell, some good, and 
some very bad! 

The non-pro mom was the gal who didn't know anything about 
show biz and its traditions; all she knew was her kid was a genius. 
The ex-pro, who was now just traveling as a guardian for her kid, 
sort of resented not being able to still "go on" . . . and of course 
the working mom's main job was to keep the kid from falling in 
love with some actor (or actress), and so break up the "family" 
act. One thing I will say about the latter, when a real clever guy or 
gal came along that looked like he had star-dust in his eyes, they'd 

Lefty's Letters M6 

O.K. the match. Stage kids followed their parents' wishes more 
than other kids. 

There were quite a number of stage families in vaude maybe 
it was because there were many small towns the acts played where 
there was nothing else to do besides the act. 

In vaude where mother and father were doing an act, mother- 
hood was a big problem. The lady had to stop working at least four 
months before the happy event. She wanted to work longer (many 
of 'em did), but the costumes didn't fit, and the folks out front 
always looked at a pretty gal where they shouldn't. After it was all 
over they would have to lay off at least a month, so it was a great 
drain on the team financially, and sometimes maybe they'd even 
lose a whole route. So it was pretty brave couples that went in for 
raising families while working in show biz. It showed a great "fam- 
ily spirit" to make all the sacrifices. Of course there were acts of 
God, but on a smaller percentage; the professional couple had to 
figure it out, because it meant a lot to them financially and career- 

We know some kids in show biz that were born backstage and 
the mothers went back to work in a couple of days. You expect this 
from Indian women, but not from glamorous gals! The greatest 
family acts were in the circus. That is easily understood, because 
circus kids were added to the act as soon as they were able to do a 
handspring, and immediately earned their keep. They never figured 
the kid would want to do anything else, and I don't think the 
majority of circus kids did. What a break for a kid to be born in a 
circus; he didn't have to pay to get in! 

There were many great families in vaude. Me and Aggie feel that 
the Four Cohans were the royal family of vaudeville, as the Barry- 
mores were of the legit! The Cohans stuck together as a family for 
many years, in and out of vaude Jerry, Helen, Josephine, and 
George M. George started out playing a fiddle and ended up with a 
flag and a Congressional Medal! The Barrymores all appeared in 
vaude, but not together. Maurice Banymore appeared as a head- 
liner in many sketches, Ethel played vaude with a few sketches 
(between shows), as did Lionel, with 'The White Slave," and 
Jack did a sketch, "His Wedding Mom/' Their uncle and aunt, 
Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, were famous vaude headliners for years 
in comedy sketches like "Billy's Tombstones." You just have to 


mention the Barrymores whenever you talk about any branch of 
show biz. 

The heirs apparent to the Cohans were the Mortons, Sam, Kitty, 
Clara, Paul, Martha, and Joe. In fact, they were in vaudeville 
much longer than the Cohans. They stuck in vaude until the finish 
a great act! Then there were Eddie Foy and the Seven Little 
Foys, Bryan, Charlie, Mary, Madeline, Dick, Eddie, Jr., and Irving; 
the boys looked like their dad and the girls looked like their 
brothers. Their mother was a fine ballerina. What a family! They 
all were talented, crazy, and lovable! (Eddie, Sr., would say, "If I 
lived in Flatbush, it would be a city.") The Marx Brothers, with 
always an extra Marx for a spare, were great Groucho, Harpo, 
Chico, Gummo, and Zeppo, and their wonderful mother, who was 
a great shownjan, Minnie Palmer! The Five Columbians were a 
musical act consisting of Pop and Mom Miller, Claire, the doll 
pianist, Ruth, the singer, and little Marilyn, who played the drums 
and danced, and who later became the famous Ziegfeld star, 
Marilyn Miller! There were the Four Diamonds, Mom, Pop, and 
two sons; the kids later did swell for themselves in their own act. 
The Sully Family, who did an act in vaude for over fifteen years, 
consisted of John Sully, Sr., Grace (mother), Bill Sully (later of 
Sully & Houghton, great act), John, Jr. (of Sully & Thomas, still 
going big), and Estelle (now retired). They all packed a lot of 

James C. Morton & Family, Pop (from Morton & Moore) , Mom 
(Mamie Diamond), and their two kids were a grand bunch. There 
were the Keatons, Joe, Myra, Buster, Jingles, and Louise. Buster 
Keaton is still one of our greatest pantomimists. The Dooley 
family, Johnny, Billy, Gordon, and Ray, didn't all play together, 
only as brother and sister, two brothers, singles, etc., but they cer- 
tainly belong with the vaude families. Ray is the only survivor. The 
Mosconi Family appeared as a family dancing act, Pop Mosconi 
(who could outdance all of his kids), Charlie, Louis, Verna, and 
Willie (tops in this type act). May Wirth & Family, the great 
equestrian act, is an old and honored one not only in the circus but 
in vaude. The Breen Family, Nellie, her dad, and her brother, 
Charles B. Lawlor and Daughters (he wrote "Sidewalks of New 
York"), Keno & Green and their daughter Mitzi (the very talented 
Mitzi Green) are others. The Musical Hodges and the Musical 
Cuttys were two large and very well-known vaude families. 

Lefty's Letters 148 

The Bell Family (there were about ten of them) were the famous 
Mexican bell ringers. Other families were Carter De Haven & 
Flora Parker with their talented offspring, Gloria and Carter, Jr. 
(class); Ross Wyse, Jr., and his Pop and Mom; West, Virginia & 
West (that's Buster West); the Rianos (Renee became a very 
funny gal); the Three Graces (Dad, Mother, and Frankie); Craw- 
ford & Broderick, and their talented son, Broderick Crawford; Lulu 
McConell & Grant Simpson and son; and Chic York & Rose King 
and daughterwhen she got married, they ran a full-page ad in 
Variety about the marriage; on the bottom it gave their route and 
said "Booked Solid" the first time this was ever done in a trade 
paper. I also remember the time when the Happy McNulty's (a 
family act) put an in memoriam notice in Variety saying, "In 
memory of our dear departed FatherThe Happy McNultys " 

A double family act was Herman Timberg and his son (now a 
swell comic known as Tim Mack) and Pat Rooney and his son, Pat, 
Jr. (a swell dancer). They all worked together for a number of 
seasons and were a great act. There was the Kelton Family; later 
Sue (the mother) and Pert did a "sister" act and Pop was the 
leader in the orchestra (faked it), Pert did a Chaplin imitation 
when she was a kid in the act and later became a swell single in the 
Follies. More of the families were Grace Hayes and her very tal- 
ented son, Peter Lind Hayes; Montrose & Allen and their funny 
son Steve; Arthur Byron, wife, and daughter Eileen; Johnny Hyams 
& Leilia Mclntyre and their pic-star daughter, Leilia Hyams; 
George Whiting & Sadie Burt and their daughter Virginia May; 
the Chadwick Trio, Mom, Pop, and Ida May; Ed Blondell with his 
beautiful daughter Joan; J C. Nugent with his wife, son Elliot, 
and daughter Ruth; O'Brien Havel and two sons Arthur and Puggy 
(they didn't work together); Mr. and Mrs. Norman Phillips and 
Jr.; Wells, McGinty & West (father and two sons wonderful 
pantomime comedy act) : Annie Yeainans and daughter; and so 
many many more that it would be impossible to mention because 
of space. But they were all nice folks. 

Me and Aggie get a big laugh when we recall the sister acts we 
played with. How each wife would watch her husband, and every 
gal partner would watch her boy partner, because the sister acts 
were supposed to be always on the prowl for a husband or loose 
partner to kind of better themselves, figuring one or the other was 
gonna get married sooner or later and quit the other sister or even 


the stage, so it was open season all the time. This wasn't really 
true, because the majority of 'em were swell, decent gals. 

In small towns, especially where the manager was a wolf, the 
sister act would get the best dressing room, regardless of their bill- 
ing. The stagehands and musicians would cater to them, they'd 
get away with excess baggage charges at the railroad station, and 
the clerk in the hotel would give them a good rate. Most of the 
gals were a lot of laughs, giving the town yokels a play while side- 
winking at their fellow artists. You see, the poor gals couldn't go 
with anybody on the bill, because the wives and partners were 
jealous. The sister act knew what it was all about, and after all the 
gals had to live, and that's how the agents and bookers figured too. 
Audiences would rather see a mediocre sister act than a good 
brother act (they were better to look at). The women out front 
could either pan the girls' hair-dos or their clothes, and maybe copy 
them. They could also argue about, "Which is the youngest?" and 
"I wonder are they real sisters?" (and many of them weren't 
some were even mother and daughter) . 

There weren't very many top-notch comedy sister acts; you could 
almost count them on one hand. The Nicholl Sisters (the first 
great two-woman blackface act) were swell. You had to give them 
credit for blackening up, because a swell-looking gal (which each 
one was) doesn't like to smear that cork over her face, but those 
two gals figured it would be a novelty, and they were right; they 
outlasted many a sister act in vaude. The Elinore Sisters did a 
comedy act, worked like the Russell Bros., and split when Kate mar- 
ried Sam Williams (they worked together for years) . Mary & Ann 
Clark were a standard comedy act for many years and remained 
together until Ann died. The Watson Sisters (Kitty and Fanny) 
are the Smith & Dale of the sister acts; they are still together and 
those two gals still pack plenty of comedy. The runners-up are the 
Duncan Sisters, who started out as a harmony act and ended up as 
a great comedy act. 

Most of the regular sister acts did singing and dancing and 
featured clothes and looks! When me and Aggie say anybody 
was tops, it is our own opinion, but we are sure the record will 
bear us out. You know the old story about Montgomery Epstein, 
who said, "It's a good thing we all don't like the same things, or 
else we would all be eating herring!" 

The biggest drawing card among the sister acts were Rose 

Lefty's Letters S5 

(Rozicka) and Jenny (Yanci) Dolly. They had plenty of class. 
First billed as the Dolly Twin Sisters, they ran an ad in Variety 
when they first came to New York saying, "Rose gives imitations 
of Isadora Duncan, English fantastic dancer" (and gave their Bronx 
address, 669 Caldwell Ave.). They later became the talk of two 
continents! There were many classy dancing and singing sister acts: 
the Cameron Sisters (beautiful Madeline is now the wife of Billy 
Gaxton), the Ban Twins, the Millership Sisters, the Fairbanks 
Twins, Mabel & Dora Ford, the De Long Sisters, the White Sisters, 
the Oakland Sisters, the Stewart Sisters, the Lorraine Sisters, the 
De Wolfe Sisters (Georgette & Capitola), Julia & fosie Rooney, 
and the Crisp Sisters. 

Some of them even threw in a piano for good measure and did 
real good singing; tops among the sister singing acts were Rosa and 
Carmela Ponselle. It was Carmela who brought Gene Hughes, 
the agent, to her home to hear her sing and had her sister Rosa 
accompany her on the piano. Gene asked if Rosa could sing. She 
sang for him, and he made them do a double act. They were a tre- 
mendous hit on the small time, held over for full weeks (where 
they only played acts split weeks). They got the Big Time and 
again were a big hit for very little dough. They should have re- 
ceived at least $2,000 a week according to the hit they made, but 
all they asked for was a $50 raise $400 and the booking office 
said no. So they split the act and Rosa went to the Metropolitan 
and did one of the greatest Carmens that ever was in the place. 

The Courtney Sisters, Fay and Florence (the latter was married 
to George Jessel twice), were one of the first great harmony sister 
acts. There were the McCarthy Sisters (Marguerite and Dorothy), 
the Four Haley Sisters (one of the first girl quartettes), the Misses 
Campbell, Mae & Rose Wilton, the Trix Sisters, Tempest & Sun- 
shine, the Boswell Sisters, the Meredith Sisters (first to sing "'Hia- 
watha"; they were mulattos and passed as Indians in England), the 
Three Dolce Sisters, the Chesleigh Sisters, Thelma & Margie 
White, the Williams Sisters (Hannah married Jack Dempsey), 
Lillian & Ann Roth (did a kid-sister act), the Aber Twins (beauti- 
ful gals), the O'Connor Twins, June and Cherry Preisser (Cherry 
married the son of Harry Hopkins), the Three Allen Sisters (with 
Larry Reilly; one of them was Gracie Allen), and Clara & Emily 
Barry (of the famous Barry Family, Lydia, Bobby, and their dad, 
who was the famous Irish star Billy Barry of Barry and Faye) . 


There were no dumb sister acts, but many of 'em did dumb acts. 
One was the great aerial act of the Leitzel Sisters (Lillian became 
the greatest aerialist in the world before she died from a fall during 
her performance). Other great sister acts doing aerial acts were the 
Austin Sisters and the Alfretti Sisters. Remember the Lunettes, and 
the Curzon Sisters (they had all kinds of colored spotlights on 
them while they swung in the air, hanging by their teeth). The 
Bennett Sisters did boxing, fencing, and wrestling; the Weston 
Sisters sang German songs and boxed; the El Rey Sisters did a 
skating act; the Similete Sisters were contortionists; the Three 
Athletas did a strong act (Ann Codee was one of the sisters and 
became a great comedienne); Maude and Gladys Finney were 
billed as "mermaids" and did a diving act; the loleen Sisters did a 
wire act, as did the O'Meer Sisters. Another swell sister act was 
Jane and Kathryn Lee, who started as tiny kids in pics and then 
became headliners in vaude. 

Among the sisters who played sketches were Bessie & Harriet 
Rempel, Vivian & Genevieve Tobin, Crisp Sisters, Josephine Har- 
mon & Sands, and Edith & Mabel Taliaferro. 

The legit had plenty of sister acts (if you can call 'em that). 
Many of them played vaude; that's why I am mentioning them. 
Usually the one who hit the top would get the other one a bit part 
or a chance at a small part so they would be together. Sometimes 
the youngster would beat out the veteran. Maxine Elliot was al- 
ready established when her sister Gertie made her start. Kate Terry 
was the toast of London when Ellen, her sister, came over here and 
topped her popularity. Lillian Russell's sister, Suzanne Westford, 
wasn't as pretty as Lillian and didn't get very far in show biz, 
Blanche Ring and her sister Julia both did well. Bessie & Nellie 
McCoy did a sister act in vaude and when they split Bessie became 
a star. (Remember her singing "Yama Yama Man"?) The Irwin 
Sisters worked for Tony Pastor; May became one of the great comic 
stars of her time and Flo took out the road companies. Rose & 
Nellie Beaumont were with Weber & Fields, split, and then went 
in vaude with Nellie's husband, Billy B. Van. You've heard of 
Tetrazzini? But few ever heard of her sister Eva, Signora Campa- 
nini, who was also a fine singer but couldn't overcome her sister's 

Ray Cox & Hazel were sisters, but never worked together. Lottie 
Gilson (the Little Magnet) had a sister Gertie, but Lottie was the 

Lefty's Letters 15 ^ 

star. There was a very novel sister act in vaude called the Bergere 
Twins; one sang and the other took encores, and the audience 
couldn't tell which was which. 

There were a few mother and daughter acts that were billed as 
"sisters/' like the Flood Sisters (they did walking on a globe), Pert 
& Sue Kelton, and Pauline & Marie Saxton. Pauline was the 
mother, and did a "rube" single for years after splitting the act; 
Marie became a Broadway singing and dancing star of musical 
comedy, until she retired after marrying Sid Silverman ? the pub- 
lisher of Variety. All three have passed on and Sid, Jr., is now the 
owner and publisher of Variety. 

Many acts billed as sister acts were really two-woman acts, which 
I'll write you about some other time. I just wrote you about the 
on-the-level sister acts this time. 

As you see, many of the sister acts changed partners or got 
married, and didn't stay together very long. But there were two 
sister acts in vaude that stuck together through thick and thin 
and never even dreamed of splitting. They were Mary and Mar- 
guerite Gibb (who were the Siamese twins) and Daisy and Violet 
Hilton, "The American Siamese Twins"! 

The story about the brother acts is the same as the sister acts. 
There were many acts billed as brothers that weren't. It was an 
easy way to stop arguments about who should be billed first. The 
early brother acts were mostly hoofers; they would dress alike, and 
so it was natural for them to be billed as "brothers." In real life I 
never saw real brothers dress alike unless they were twins. Where 
I was raised, the younger brother wore the older brother's clothes, 
and when he got some of his own he'd get a different color so 
people would know it was a new suit. But the stage "brothers" 
dressed alike because they got a price on two-suit orders. It was 
very funny to see a typical Italian boy and a typical Jewish boy 
billed as "brothers" (or any combination you can think of). Audi- 
ences would look at the billing, then look at the act, and say, "I 
guess they're stepbrothers." 

Me and Aggie are just gonna mention a few of the real brother 
acts in vaude; those we leave out no doubt will be mentioned in 
my other letters to you under some other kind of a heading. The 
Musical Johnstons were together over forty years, and only the 
great Stage Manager parted them. There were the Patti Bros, 
(one of them went downstairs on his head), the Otto Bros., Al & 


Harry Klien, the Roger Bros, (successors to Weber & Fields), the 
Siddons Brothers (dancing policemen), Joe Cook & Bro. (Joe was 
the guy who made the Four Hawaiians famous), the Rice Bros, 
(there were two teams by that name, one a great comedy bar act 
and the other a double Dutch act), the Six Byrne Bros, (a terrific 
act) , and the Rigoletto Bros., who have been together for thirty-five 
years to my knowledge and are still going big, even unto TV. I 
believe they are the oldest real brother act still working, outside of 
the Gaudschmidts and the Arnaut Brothers. 

Then there were the Bush Bros., Fields Bros., Teddy & Blackie 
Evans, the Sharp Bros., Van Bros, (another long-time team), Bow- 
man Bros., Terry Twins, Mahoney Bros. (Will Mahoney became a 
headliner), Six Brown Bros., Harry & Bert Gordon (Bert became 
the famous Mad Russian of the Cantor program), the Arnaut 
Bros. (Two Loving Birds), another old-time act now on TV, the 
Schwartz Bros, (the double mirror act), who were together over forty 
years, Arthur & Fuggy Havel, who started together and are still to- 
gether (great kids), the Bernevici Brothers, who started as two violin- 
ists and when they split the "Count" went on his own as a successful 
band leader, Bert Fitzgibbons and his brother Lew (later Bert became 
king of the "nut" comics), the Musical Berrens, Three Leightons 
(Joe, Bert, and Frank), who rewrote and sang the pop version of 
"Frankie and Johnny," Val & Ernie Stanton, and the Girard 
Brothers (who were with Mae West for awhile). 

One of the greatest brother acts was the Four Marx Bros.; an- 
other great brother act was William & Gordon Dooley; the Three 
Du For Bros. (Harry, Denis & Cyril, fine dancers) ; the Wilson Bros. 
(Frank & Joe) were a popular team in vaude and were together for 
many years (when anybody in the audience would laugh, Joe 
would blow a whistle and say "Ged oud"). The Purcella Bros, 
were part of the great Six American Dancers; the Callahan Bros, 
were great comics who acted as stooges with many acts, besides 
being good hoofers as were the Pearson Brothers; the Rath Bros, 
the classiest of all acrobats; Ed & Lou Miller were great singers; 
the Swor Brothers did acts with each other at various times; the 
Hickey Bros, did a great comedy act for years. 

The Gaudschmidts are the oldest acrobatic act of its kind in the 
business; they must have been together over fifty years. There 
were Claude & Clarence Stroud, the Kelso Bros., Reis Bros., 
Weaver Bros., Ritz Bros, (still together and doing a swell job on 

Lefty's Letters 154 

TV), Jim and Mercer Templeton, who worked together for many 
years, the Three Small Brothers, Joe & Pete Michon, the Gaits 
Bros., Four Slate Bros., Frey Twins, Russell Bros., and the greatest 
of 'em all, Willie & Eugene Howard, who were together for many 
years until Willie was starred in a show (Gene was his manager). 
They had a brother Sam who was a very good comic in his own 
right, but couldn't get anywhere because Willie was so wonderful 
(the comparison just kept him out). Another case of that kind 
was Al Jolson and his brother Harry. Of course no brother or even 
a distant relation or even a stranger could touch Al Jolson! 

There were a number of brother and sister acts in vaude, but 
for business reasons many of them didn't bill themselves that way. 
Somehow or other a gal lost her glamor for the gents out front 
when she was a "sister/' I believe it cooled them off to know that 
her brother was looking out for her. It was the same as the Mr. and 
Mrs. billing. It sounds screwy, but maybe this new kind of mind 
docs that lays you on a couch instead of an operating table can 
explain it. All me and Aggie know is what we saw through our 
many years in vaude. We can mention many brother and sister 
acts that did very well in spite of the billing, but many felt it was 
best to "let 'em guess out front." 

The ones who were unafraid were Victor Hyde & Sister, Harry & 
Eva Puck, Bud & Nellie Heirn, Bernard & Dorothy Granville, Harry 
Fink & Sister, Al & Fanny Stedman (a great comedy piano act), 
the Aerial Budds, Hattie & Herman Timberg, the Cansinos (Elisa, 
Eduardo, Angel, and Jose), Kitty, Ted & Rose Doner (a great 
family), Billy Wayne & Ruth Warren (brother and sister a swell 
comedy act), Rae Ball & Brother, Mollie & Charles King, Elsie & 
Harry Pilcer, Keller Sisters & Lynch (brother and sisters), Alice & 
Sonny LaMont, Jack & Kay Spangler, the Three Reillys, Vilma 
& Buddy Ebsen; Annie, Judy & Zeke (Judy Canova), Florence 
Moore & Brother. Some, as you may notice, weren't billed as 
brother and sister, but the advance notices for all these said that 
they were brothers and sisters. (Did I forget Fred & Adele Astaire?) 

What I am trying to tell you, Joe, is that vaude people were no 
different than anybody else. They had pops, moms, brothers, and 
sisters, and most of all, they had tdent\ They were for real! SEZ 

Your pal, 



Animal Acts 

Dear Joe, 

Me and Aggie really shouldn't lilce animal acts, because when we 
first went out West on a vaude tour, we rode in a "tourist car" 
which was practically third class. Now, don't tell me there never 
was third class in America on railroads. They gave you a cheaper 
rate than a day coach in a car with cane seats and a stove at one 
end where the passengers could cook their food. (In summer the 
cane seats were much cooler than the plush ones in the pullmans.) 
These tourist cars were mostly for emigrants, but our show had 
one all to ourselves we all wanted to save dough (but me and 
Aggie didn't have any dough to save; in those days Aggie's grouch 
bag was flatter than a record) . Anyway, what I want to tell you is 
that we had a dog act on the show; the dogs were in the baggage 
car, but the owner cooked all the dog food in our car. Brother, 
did you ever smell dog food cooking in a train? Ill tell you what 
it did for me and Aggie: the railroads lost two tourist-rate cus- 
tomers. After that trip we traveled first class, if you can call a day 
coach first class! 

The circuses furnished the variety theaters with the "small stuff* 
animal acts, like dogs, monkeys, ponies, pigeons, etc., that could 
play on small stages and get into the small stage doors. When the 
circus would close, those acts would fill in the winter with vaude 
dates. The variety houses had no room to keep the animal acts, 
so the owners would keep their animals in the dressing room during 
the show, and sleep 'em in a local stable or barn. 

European managers always played animal acts and headlined 
many of them. They had special entrances and quarters for animals 
right in the theater. 

There weren't very many wild-animal acts in American vaude. 
There were some elephant acts, but few "cat" acts, like lions, tigers r 
panthers, and leopards. Even in later years, when there were big 
stages and large stage doors, the managers were a bit afraid to play 
the wild animals for fear of frightening the women and children. 

Me and Aggie will never forget the time we played the Moss; 

Lefty's Letters 15S 

and Brill house on East Eighty-sixth Street, New York, about thirty- 
five years ago. There was a lion act on the bill. Some drunken 
assistant forgot to close the door of the cage while they were on 
stage and the lions got wise and started to scram through it like 
they had a vacation. They went over the foots and through the 
side boxes, and you can imagine the panic. The remarkable part of 
it was that nobody got hurt by the animals, who went for the exits, 
and believe me nobody was in their way, but a few of the audience 
were hurt by the panic among themselves. Maybe the lions thought 
they were a lousy audience and didn't want anything to do with 
them. At the time we were all panicky backstage, but it all ended 
up in a laugh. One lion got on the fire escape and jumped into 
the skylight of a photographer's next door. The lion was scared 
worse than the photographer, and they captured him easily. 

By now the cops were out holding back the crowds on Third 
Avenue, where a few of the lions were roaming around. They shot 
two of them and then spotted one standing outside a saloon on 
the West Side of Third Avenue, between Eighty-fourth and 
Eighty-fifth streets. There were hundreds of people watching as 
the lion scratched himself and then lay down; he didn't seem a bit 
worried except when the elevated train went by. The crowd and 
cops were tense and then a drunk who was rushing the growler 
staggered through the saloon's swinging doors with a tin pail of 
beer in his hand, saw the lion sitting there, and, mistaking him for 
a dog, walked over and patted his head and walked on. The lion 
never even looked up. He was brought home alive. After this inci- 
dent there were no wild-animal acts in vaude for years! 

While I'm on a lion kick, I must tell you a couple more experi- 
ences me and Aggie had, and to which we have witnesses. While 
we were playing a theater in Germantown, Pennsylvania, there was 
a certain lion act on the bill (I said certain lion act, because I clon't 
want the owner or her heirs to be embarrassed and get notions of 
suing). There were three shows a day, one in the afternoon, house 
cleared, and two at night. After the matinee we put the feed bag 
on and I came back to the theater where everything was dark ex- 
cept a tiny pilot light upstage. I made for the stagehands' room, 
which was one short flight up from the stage, where a poker game 
was going on. The tiny room could hold about five people com- 
fortably, but there must have been a dozen guys, stagehands and 
actors. To get your cards you had to pass your money via some- 


body and they in turn had to pass you your cards. One guy was 
sitting in the wash basin and most of us were against the wall. 
There was one tiny window in the room about a foot by fifteen 
inches big. 

We were all playing penny ante when there was a noise at the 
door. Nobody paid any attention to it, but after a half a dozen of 
these sounds, someone said, "See who that funny man is at the 
door." Someone didand there was a lion standing there! We all 
knew he didn't come to play poker! I don't know exactly what 
happened, but I do know that in two seconds there were four guys 
on top of me under the table (I wanted to be eaten last), and a 
guy weighing 250 pounds had his body halfway through that tiny 
window and don't say it can't be done! Did you ever have a loose 
lion facing you? And all through this excitement the lion didn't 
even move! In a few minutes (which seemed a whole season to 
me) the guy who cleaned the cages and fed the lions between 
shows, and who had forgotten to close the door (the drunken bas- 
tard), got hold of the lion's mane and took him peacefully back to 
the cage. We found out later the lion had no teeth, but you know 
the old gag, "A lion can gum you to death!" 

To finish this story, and it's God's truth, on Saturday night when 
the show closed the lions were put in crates and put on the transfer 
wagon (which was horse-drawn in those days) and on the way to 
the railroad station, over cobblestones, the pins on the crates jiggled 
out and opened the crates. Two lions got out (or fell out), but 
they made no fuss, no bother they just followed the wagon to the 
station, where the same drunken attendant put them back in the 
crates as if things like that happened every day. Could you blame 
the managers for not booking that kind of act? 

But there were really some swell cat acts, like Adgie & Her 
Lions. She once put mirrors around the big cage to make the set- 
ting prettier, and it did, but she didn't rehearse the lions with the 
mirrors, so when they got into the cage and got a gander at them- 
selves in the glass, they went wild. They had to remove the mirrors 
before the act could go on. There were Marck's Lions, Bert Nelson 
and His Lioness, Princess Pat, a very fierce animal (if she had 
been at that door in Germantown instead of the other one, I 
wouldn't be writing you now), Arnaldo's Leopard and Panthers, 
Furtell's Jungle Lions, Richard Herman's Jungle Kings, Dolores 
Vallecita's Leopards, and Captain Proske's Tigers. When me and 

Lefty s Letters s58 

Aggie worked on a bill with anything bigger than white mice, we 
called it "nervous weeks." 

The big elephant acts were Lockhart's, Gruber's, and Powers' 
Elephants (Powers' Elephants were for many years at the New York 
Hippodrome), Roxie and Baby Rose. And speaking about Powers' 
Elephants, here's a story that never was told before except among 
a few newspapermen and actors. When my very dear pal Gene 
Fowler, the famous author and newspaperman, was made president 
of the New York Press Glob, he decided to do something for the 
newspapermen's kids on Christmas. In those days the guys had to 
work on the one day they would have loved to spend at home. 
So Gene staged a big party for the children of the working news- 
papermen at the clubrooms, which were on the twenty-first floor 
of a West Forty-second Street office building. Besides the Christ- 
mas tree, there were many gifts and a big feed, and Gene had 
arranged a big surprise: Powers' Baby Rose, a tiny elephant (if you 
can call any elephant tiny), who was playing at the New York 
Hippodrome at the time, was coming to amuse the kids. If you 
remember, Baby Rose was made up with a large white circle 
around one eye and wore a clown hat on her head. 

Everything was set. The kids were all upstairs and Baby Rose 
was delivered at the building, but Gene forgot that she couldn't 
go through the elevator door. He asked the starter to open the 
other door on the elevator. The starter told him it was screwed 
closed and couldn't be opened. Gene couldn't budge him. So he 
asked, "Who is your boss?" The guy told him, Gene called the 
owner of the building, and he also said no! Then Gene whispered 
in the phone a certain story he knew about the gentleman, that 
wouldn't look good in the papers (anything to make the kids 
happy, even blackmail), and the boss immediately gave orders to 
open both doors of the elevator. The elephant got in, the door was 
screwed back in place again, on the twenty-first floor they had to 
take the door off again, and Rose finally got out. Gene told the 
elevator man that it would be at least a couple of hours before 
he would need the elevator again. Beaming over what a hit Rosie 
would be with the kids, he brought her into the room where the 
party was going on and one kid promptly became hysterical! It 
was Gene's own little daughter Jane (now a newspaper exec). 
Gene got panicky and yelled, "Help me get this gawdam elephant 
out of here!" The elevator didn't answer the ring, since Gene had 


told the man to take a breather, so the only place to put Rosie 
was in the men's room (regardless of her sex). They had a tough 
time getting her through the door (she was bashful), but finally 
made it. 

There happened to be in the men's room at the time a very 
well-known newspaperman who had just been discharged from 
Bellevue's Alcoholic Ward after a three-week siege of the D.T.s. 
When he saw the elephant and Gene, he blinked, rubbed his eyes, 
and in a low shaky voice said, "Gene, Fm seein' 'em again. I see 
an elephantr Gene, who was in a panic because of his daughter 
yelling and screaming in the next room, explained hurriedly that 
the guy wasn't seeing things; it was a real live elephant. The man 
against insisted he saw an elephant, and again Gene told him that 
it was really a live elephant he was seeing. The guy kept getting 
louder and louder, and so did Gene, who kept telling him it was a 
real elephantl Finally the man yelled, "Yeh, Gene, but this one 
has a hat on!" They took him back to Bellevue! 

Another elephant story that really belongs to vaude is also about 
Powers' Elephants. Me and Aggie played Derby, Connecticut, at 
the old Sterling Opera House in 1910. It was an "upstairs 7 ' house 
with a small stage door that not even a mouse could come through. 
So Powers and his beautiful wife Jeanne (who worked the elephant) 
brought Roxie up the outside steps and onto the stage from the 
front of the house. Roxie walked up the stairs like a baby and 
came down the center aisle. They had a heavy plank leading to 
the stage, and all the actors (three acts), on stage for rehearsal, 
were watching Mr. Powers lead Roxie up the plank. Now Fve 
heard a lot of stories about elephants and horses not going over 
anything that wasn't safe, but I guess Roxie had never heard those 
stories, because the plank didn't have a board to keep it from 
slipping and when Roxie was halfway up the plank started to 
slip back. Roxie got panicky, jumped down, broke the piano (which 
was the orchestra) and three rows of seats, and started to yell (or 
whatever an elephant does when he is as scared as we actors were. 
"(We didn't yell; we just sent out our laundry.) But Mr. Powers 
got the hook they guide the elephant with and tried to calm Roxie 
down, which was a very brave thing to do with a scared elephant 
(I wouldn't do it with a scared butterfly), and finally he got Roxie 
under control. It was an old opry house with a lot of skinny iron 
columns holding up the balcony. If Roxie had gotten mad at one 

Lefty's Letters ieo 

of those columns, the whole place would have come down. The 
most wonderful part of the story is that when they finally cleaned 
everything up and nailed down a board to keep the plank from 
slipping, Roxie went over it like a baby, which is contrary to all 
elephant stories. Of course, after the excitement there is always a 
laugh. The manager was laid up for the week from the rehearsal 
incident, but showed up to pay us off, and me and Aggie con- 
gratulated him on the big business Roxie did for him. He said, 
"Yes, but from now on I'll never book anything in this house 
bigger than a canary'/* 

There were not very many equestrian acts in vaude. Transporta- 
tion costs were big; special cars were very expensive and it took 
twenty-five railroad tickets to get a baggage car, so there were not 
over a dozen of these acts that played Big Time. (Few small-time 
houses could afford them or had stages big enough for them.) 

May Wirth & Family and the Poodles Hanneford Family were 
both without a doubt the tops of 'em all, May Wirth as the 
greatest straight rider and Poodles Hanneford as a clown rider. 
They were both members of old and respected circus families that 
date back many many years. There were other swell acts of this 
type, like Professor Buckley's Curriculum, Mme. Etoile's Society 
Horses (also her boxing stallions), the Davenports (who were bare- 
back riders, better known as rosin-backs because they put a lot 
of rosin on the animal's backs to keep from slipping off), Ella 
Bradna (wife of the famous ring director of Barnum & Bailey's 
Circus for almost fifty years) and Fred Derrick, the Buttons (swell 
act), the Five Lloyds (who were dressed like Indians), the George 
St. Leon Troupe (with Ida, Elsie, Vera, and Georgea solid stand- 
ard act), and Bostock's Riding School with Lillian St. Leon. 
Ida St. Leon played the lead in Polly of the Circus. They all were 
headliners with great show biz backgrounds. It's funny (or is it?), 
but there was only one Negro who had an equestrian act, and he 
never played in America. He was an Australian aborigine by the 
name of Harry Cardello, and they tell me he did a very good act. 

There are two kinds of horse acts: Liberty and High School. 
Liberty work is jumping tricks at liberty no rider, obeying sign 
or command of trainer. A talking, counting, posing, or drill horse 
is called Liberty. High School work means with a saddle and riders. 
I threw that in for free; thought maybe you'd like to know. 

Most of the animal acts in vaude were dogs, ponies, monkeys, 

A N I M A L A C T S 161 

cats, birds, and "odds and ends/' They were good attractions for 
the kids at matinees and even some of the grown-ups let out an 
"Ah" once in a while. Frank Stafford had a beautiful posing act 
with his dogs; he also was a fine whistler and was assisted by a 
beautiful gal, Marie Stone. Wormwood's Dogs and Monkeys were 
pioneers. Then there were Meehan's Leaping Dogs, Fred Gerner 
& Co., who also had leaping dogs, Stella Morrissini's Leaping 
Wolfhounds, and Prof. Harry Parker and Fred. H. Leslie, who 
both had leaping-dog acts in 1893. Rin-Tin-Tin, the famous movie 
dog, did well in vaude. Ed Vinton & Buster were good; the dog 
imitated everything the trainer did. Big Bill Bloomberg's trained 
Alaskan dogs did the only act of its kind. Svengali was a mind- 
reading dog. Sandow made personal appearance after his hit in pics. 
Alice Loretta had statue-posing dogs. Other acts were Alf Royal & 
His Dog, Wm. A. McCormick (whose collie barked out arith- 
metic lessons), and Professor Duncan's Scotch Collies. Roser's 
Aer'al Dogs walked the tight rope. Meredith & Snoozer (white bull 
dog) was a standard act. M. S. Ferrero's Dog Musicians played toy 
instruments. There were Hector & His Pals (his pals were dogs), 
Max & His Gang (his gang were dogs), the Rex Comedy Circus, 
and Howard's Dogs and Ponies. Again a story comes to mind 
about my favorite clown, Eddie Carr, at Bedford, Massachusetts, 
Howard's ponies were on the bill; they were tiny things, and on 
rehearsal morning Eddie took one of them and brought him down- 
stairs to his dressing room. An Englishman who had just come in 
from Canada to play his first date in this country was dressing 
with Eddie. Coming to America and doing his first show here 
made the guy a bit nervous. He went to the dressing room and 
introduced himself to Eddie. He kept looking at the pony tied 
to the sink. Finally he said to Eddie, "Yours?" Eddie looked around 
at the pony and said, "No. Yours?" The Englishman shook his 
head and said, "Good God, no!" "Well/ 7 said Eddie, "I guess he's 
dressing with us." "Why, I never heard of such a thing. I'll tell the 
stage manager. I won't stand for it. Why, look what he's done!" 
said the Englishman. Eddie looked and said, "I wouldn't kick if 
I were you. Last week I dressed with a camel!" By that time, 
Howard, half-crazy, came in and grabbed his pony. 

I must tell you about a certain dog act (again I don't mention 
the name, because the dog is liable to sue or at least bite me). 
The man had an act with a lot of dogs performing on a large table. 

Lefty's Letters 1S2 

At the opening of the act there was a dog standing on a pedestal 
who never moved throughout the act; he was like the Washington 
Monument. At the finish of the act the curtain came down, and 
when it went up again, the trainer turned to the posing dog and 
said, "Come on, the act is over/ 7 and the dog shook himself 
and walked off. This of course got a terrific hand because he was in 
one position for about fifteen minutes. Well, the gimmick was, 
the original dog on the stand was a dummy, and when the curtain 
went down the trainer switched the live dog for the dummy. They 
looked exactly alike and the live one took the identical pose, but 
only had to hold it for a minute. A smart gimmick, eh? 

Of all the different animal acts we played with, we liked the 
novelty acts best. I'm not taking anything away from the straight 
animal acts. We certainly know how much patience and hard work 
it takes to train lions, elephants, tigers, horses, monkeys, and dogs. 
And it was the trainers that led a dog's life. They were up at all 
hours to feed, nurse, and train the animals, and they were never 
sure if the animals would come through, because animals couldn't 
tell you when they were sick. We especially loved the dog acts. 
You won't believe this, but we saw dogs that knew when they went 
over big, and when they didn't get a lot of applause for their tricks 
they would actually slink back to their positions. We worked with 
clown dogs that when they'd get a big laugh would add something 
else (not part of the trick) to get another laugh. We saw dogs 
that when the acf s music started acted as nervous as fighters; they 
knew their "traveling days" and when they got in a new theater. 
Honest, they would act different on opening shows. They remem- 
bered return dates and seemed to remember the alleys they were 
exercised in. 

And don't let anyone tell you that any of the animals are mis- 
treated (maybe, when they were being trained maybe, like a bad 
kid, they got spanked). But once they were "performers," the 
trainer treated 'em like babies, because after all they were his 
bread and butter (and sometimes jam). When you went on the 
stage with an animal act you never knew what would happen, I 
worked with a dog act that on one show refused to do a trick; none 
of the dogs would work; they had to ring the curtain down, I don't 
know why they refused, neither did the trainer. They just didn't 
work. The next show they were great! 

Once a guy down in Dallas, Texas, told the local manager that 


he had a great cat act that he had trained in his barn for over a 
year and they were very good. The manager told him to bring them 
down and show him the act and if it was good he would use it 
the first time he had a disappointment. The farmer came down 
with a station wagon full of cats. It was early in the morning, the 
theater was empty, and there was only a pilot light on the stage. 
The cats went through their act, which really was very good and 
showed fine training. The manager said he certainly would use 
them the first chance he got. During the winter an opening act 
was held up by a snowstorm and couldn't make it, so the manager 
called in the cat man. He got all set to open the show. The cats 
were on their stands, everything was fine, the cue was given for 
the lights and music, the curtain went up and all the cats 
scrammed off the stage. It seems the guy forgot to rehearse his cats 
with lights and music. I think the cats were later found on a 
Major Bowes Unit. 

There were a number of bird acts (that's one act that gives the 
audience "the bird") . There were a lot of cockatoo acts (they were 
easy to train): Swain's Cockatoos, Merle's Cockatoos, Marzella's, 
Lamont's, and Wallace's. They walked the wire, rang bells, put 
out a fire in a toy house, etc. Very entertaining. There were Mar- 
celle's Birds, Camilla's Pigeons, Conrad's Pigeons, and of course 
Olympia DesVall's was the best bird act of them all. There was 
also Torcat's & Flora D'Aliza's Educated Roosters, followed by 
Kurtis's Educated Roosters. (All through vaudeville history, when 
a certain type act made good, there were many copies.) 

Among the best bear acts were Pallenburg's Bears, Alber's Ten 
Polar Bears, Batty's Bears, and Spessardy's Bears. All well trained. 

Monkeys, especially apes and chimps, were good drawing cards, 
and even the trainers never knew what they were liable to ad-lib. 
Wormwood's Monkeys were among the first trained monkey acts, 
and Belle Hathaway's acts also go way back. She had one act where 
a baboon would catch plates thrown at him, A great act. There 
were Gillette's Baboons and Monkeys in "A Day at the Races" 
(the monkeys acted as jockeys), Norris' Baboons in "A Monkey 
Romance" (opened with a pantomime romantic scene between 
two monkeys very funny) , and Jean Clairemont's Circus Monkeys 
(monks on the dogs' backs and also dummy figures on ponies' 
backs). MaCart's Monkeys had 'em riding autos and bicycles. La 

Lefty's Letters 164 

Bella Pola was a chimp that danced the Charleston, varsity drag, 

It was "Consul the Great" that put the chimp acts on the vaude 
map. (Alfred the Great, another chimp, also claimed to be the 
first.) Consul received tremendous publicity. He had many copies; 
one ape was called Consuline. (How close can you get?) There was 
another good chimp, Peter the Great, who was billed as "Born a 
monkey, made himself a man!" He later was called Consul Peter 
the Great (after Consul became a hit). And there were Alfred the 
First (get the angle of making people believe he was the first) and 
Mende, a very clever but a very mean chimp, who when he died 
was replaced by Buster, a great chimp owned by Jane and Kathryn 
Lee. They all practically did the same routines, like riding a bicycle, 
smoking, eating with a knife and fork, saying their prayers, doing 
acrobatics, writing on a typewriter, etc. Still Consul stood out and 
was without a doubt the greatest drawing card of all the animal 

Talking about Consul, when he first showed at Hammerstein's, 
an actor saw his opening show. He came back to the White Rats 
Club and raved to a brother actor about what a wonderful act 
Consul was. "Why, he eats with a knife and fork, smokes a cigar, 
writes on a typewriter, etc. etc." The other guy doubted it; he had 
never heard of a chimp doing those things. "O.K.," said the first 
actor, "I'll get a couple of Oakley's from Willie and you can sec 
for yourself, and if Consul is all I said he was, the drinks are on 
you." What he didn't know was that Consul was taken ill after 
the matinee and was replaced by another headliner, who happened 
to be the international storyteller, Marshall P. Wilder. As every- 
body knows, Mr. Wilder was sort of a dwarf; he was about four 
feet high and was hunchbacked. The two actors, seated in the 
orchestra and not knowing about the change in headliners, saw- 
Marshall P. Wilder walk out and say, "Ladies and gentlemen . . ." 
The actor turned to his doubting friend and said, "Geezus, they 
got him talkingl" 

We especially liked the "goofy'acts," as me and Aggie called 'em, 
like Gordon Bros., Jeff, who was a boxing kangaroo, Swain's Alli- 
gators, bears like Moxey, the wrestling bear, Big Jim, the skating 
and dancing bear, Alice and Lolette, who also did dancing they 
all claimed to be the first. A novelty animal act, like any other 
novelty act, could get more dough, so all trainers tried to get some- 


thing new and many of 'em succeeded. Way back in 1893 
Leon had two donkeys called Jack and Jill that sang(?). The or- 
chestra played loud music and the mules brayed, which passed for 
singing (as it does today with some humans). This was followed 
by singing dogs, singing wolves, and Rossi's Musical Horse, who 
also laughed! They all had the same technique; the "dancing" 
animals did the same movements to every dance; the only thing 
that was changed was the music, and it always appeared like the 
animal was doing the particular dance the music was playing. 
(Lots of human dancing acts do the same routines to different 
music and that makes them look like different dances.) 

In 1897 there was an educated horse called Beautiful Jim Key, 
who would spell names, pick out any letter in the alphabet, play- 
ing card, or number asked for, use the telephone, make change, 
file letters, and play the organ. He was the main attraction with the 
John Philip Sousa road show. 

We liked Guy Weadick's "Stampede," which was the first rodeo 
in vaudeville, and Muldoon with his champion wrestling pony. 
We liked E, Merian's Pantomimic Dogs, who presented a one-act 
drama, "A Faithless Woman/' and Hughling's Seals, especially 
Sharkey, who was almost human; he juggled and played chimes and 
was one of the first to applaud himself. Rosina Coseli's Midget 
Wonders were a gang of Chihuahua dogs; they'd go off the stage 
in a toy auto and after they were off there would be a big explosion 
and the tiny dogs would come back pushing the tiny auto. Then 
there was Don, the "Talking Dog/' (John Coleman claimed that 
his dog Roj was the first talking dog; he was playing the Orpheum 
Circuit while Don was in Europe. He didn't stand a chance, be- 
cause Don beat him to New York and received his publicity via 
the great Willie Hammerstein.) Don was a hit only because of 
Loney Haskell, the assistant manager and M.C. of Hammerstein's. 
I heard Don struggle with words, and all I could understand, using 
my imagination, was "Hunger" and "Kiichen" (Hunger and Cake) ; 
that's the only German I knew, and I'm still not sure if he said it 
or not, but I am sure of the laughs Loney Haskell got talking about 
Don. He had to travel all over the circuit with Don to put him 

Another great novelty act was Barnold's Drunken Dog, who did 
a drunk almost as good as Jim Barton. He was signed by Klaw & 
Erlanger during their Advanced Vaudeville trip for $1,000 a week. 

Lefty's Letters 16S 

He played at Hammerstein's for $300 before that. Barnold was the 
highest-priced animal act at that time, the previous one being 
Lockhart's Elephants. There were many copies of this act. Officer 
Yokes had a great drunken dog too. Jenny Conchas had a fine 
posing-dog act; the dog smoked, changed costumes, and his face 
went great with the different costumes for plenty of laughs. 

Maude Rochez's "Night in a Monkey Music Hall" was really a 
great novelty act. There was no trainer on stage. There was an 
orchestra pit, where the monkey "leader" kept turning over the 
music, and the monkeys played a "sketch/' did a trapeze act, 
danced, etc. really funny and great! There were La Valliere's 
Football Dogs; they had a wire strung across stage with a ball on it 
and when the trainer blew the whistle the dogs would jump in the 
air and butt the ball and the ones who butted the ball to their goal 
won! Another novel dog act was Dick, a dog who drew with pen 
and ink. He had a fountain pen tied to his paw and really drew 

May Barkley's "Bulldog Music Hall" was a lot like the "Monkey 
Music Hall," only done by dogs. She had a mechanical orchestra 
on a small stage, three dogs appeared in tabloids and posing, and 
she also used a lot of dummy dogs and it was hard to tell the real 
ones from the dummies. John Agee had a trained bull and horse. 
"Gautier's Bricklayers" made a terrific hit lately in TV. It is one 
of the greatest trained dog acts that ever was in vaude. Dogs 
work without a trainer on stage. It's a funny thing about this act. 
Mr. Gautier's father, a great dog trainer, did this act many years 
ago and just about got by with it, so when he retired he stored the 
scenery and props away in his barn. Years after, his son, who was 
doing "Gautier's Toy Shop" (a swell act for years), figured he 
would revive the father's act, so dug up the props etc. and put it on. 
It became a sensation, not only on the stage but in TV, and was 
rated as one of the greatest novelty animal acts. 

There was Swain's Cats and Rats, a very interesting act (they 
must have fed the cats before the show) . Haveman's Animals was 
the first act I ever saw where the tiger licked the trainer's face and 
the trainer wrestled with a full-grown lion. After seeing that one, 
me and Aggie decided we'd never earn our living kissing tigers 
(kissing agents was bad enough). Apdale's Animals had a chariot 
race, with dogs made up like horses and monkeys as the drivers. 
Torcat's Roosters boxed and rode a dummy horse. Wormwood's 


dogs rode a bicycle race for a finish. Al Mardo had a "lazy" dog 
who would take his time doing his tricks a very funny act. Nelson 
had boxing cats, while Coleman had one of his cats jump from a 
basket way up in the flies into his arms. 

In 1911 we worked with a very funny monkey act, Gillette's 
Dogs and Monkeys; in this act Adam and Eve were bowling mon- 
keys. Adam would make a strike or spare and a monkey pin boy 
would set up the pins and return the ball. After each play Adam 
would order a drink, and he got drunker and drunker as the game 
went along and finally tore up the joint (a very funny act)! In 
Charles Baron's Burlesque Menagerie the dogs were disguised as 
wild animals; the big laugh was when the dachshund, made up as 
an alligator, was brought on with a rope. 

Rhinelander's Pigs had a trainer dressed as a butcher; he had 
the pigs go through simple tricks like walking up and down stairs 
on their hind legs, sitting down, forming pyramids, playing see- 
saw, etc. But the funniest part of the act was when the pigs would 
"balk" at doing a trick. He would take out a big butcher knife and 
start sharpening it on a whetstone, and the pigs, seeing this, imme- 
diately did the trick! The Butting Ram act had five goats and two 
pigs; they too would go through simple tricks and the goats at the 
finish would butt the trainer all over the stage. He did do a very 
funny bit. He came out dressed in a Prince Albert coat, and so as 
not to get it dirty took it off, rolled it up, and stuck it in his pants 
pocket. It didn't make the big bulge it should have, and had the 
audience guessing all through the act as to what happened to the 
coat and why it didn't show in his pocket! There's a story that 
goes with this act that I just must tell you. One show a "clown" 
on the bill (no, it was not Eddie Carr this time) had an idea and 
he painted a very prominent part of the goat with gold paint; when 
the goat went on and turned its back to the audience, the laughs 
were so big that the trainer got panicky he never did get wise until 
later. When he came off stage, he said, "That's the best owdience 
I hef never blayed tu. They know someding's good." I wonder what 
he said when he discovered the gold paint? 

White, Black & Useless, the latter a mule, had a great comedy 
act where the men were trying to "shoe" the mule. Cliff Berzac's 
Circus was very funny, with a bucking mule; people from the audi- 
ence were invited to ride him for a reward and of course the 
stooges came up and were very funny. This had been done for years 

Lefty s Letters 168 

in vaude and in circuses, but Berzac was the first to have a turn- 
table to try to ride and it really had the customers in hysterics! 

One of the really fine and oldest animal acts is Karl Emmy & 
His Pets; he is now working night clubs and TV. But the greatest 
animal novelty act I ever saw, that never played theaters but was 
a big attraction in museums for years, was "The Happy Family/' 
There was a large cage on the platform which was covered with 
a big cloth between shows. In this large cage were a lion, lamb, 
owl, sparrows, cat, dog 7 mice, tiger, panther, snakes, pony, monkey 
in fact, almost any animal you could mention, and in the center 
sat a beautiful woman on a large throne. There were no fights or 
arguments between all these animals that were supposed to hate 
each other. What an act that would be as a lesson to the world 

As I said before, it took a lot of time and patience on the part 
of the trainers to produce these great animal acts. And there was 
plenty of danger when you trained wild animals. I used to sit in 
the company car on our travel days over the Orpheum Circuit and 
talk to a "cage boy" by the name of Slanty. He was a little guy 
who wouldn't weigh 115 pounds with anchors in each hand, all 
wrinkled up like an accordion, and the last man you would figure 
had anything to do with wild animals. He was an old circus and 
carny guy and had been with animals all his life; he knew every 
gimmick you ever heard of. Slanty and me and Aggie would "beer 
it up" some nights after he took care of the "brood/ 1 as he called 
them. I learned a lot about animal acts from him; I was a guy who 
always wanted to know about any angle of show biz, and believe 
me, this guy Slanty knew plenty. He told me that lions are trained 
to roar and make passes at the trainer to make it look more sensa- 
tional. That tigers are the most dangerous and unreliable of the 
cats the Royal Bengal tiger is very dangerous and the Indian tiger 
you can trust just a little more; they are both vicious, but easy to 
train because they have a high I.Q. Leopards are tough to train. 
Black panthers are the toughest and most vicious to work with. The 
only reason trainers get hurt is that, like airplane pilots, they get 
too confident and forget the animals they are working with are 

Elephants are very smart, the same as chimps, but elephants 
can't be trusted, Cutting the tusks from an elephant doesn't hurt 
them. Vaude acts use female elephants. There are a few guys that 


get "raw" animals and train 'em, then turn 'em over to other 
trainers to work in circus and vaude. To me, those original guys 
who take a wild beast and train it are the real top guys ( not taking 
anything away from the other trainers who work with them for 
years); a wild animal is never tamed. Another thing Slanty told 
me was that the guy outside the cage, when a trainer is working 
with wild animals, doesn't have real bullets in his gun, just blanks. 
The reason is that in a circus, if the guy would shoot real bullets 
to save the trainer, it might hit somebody in the audience, and 
they'd rather lose the life of the trainer than some guy out front 
who would sue. But I'm just kidding. It seems that a blank car- 
tridge is as good as a real bullet, because it frightens the beast for 
a minute and that's the time the trainer can get out of the jam. 

It's funny that me and Aggie knew Slanty for about twenty-five 
years, but don't know his right name. (I've nodded hello to guys 
on Broadway for over forty years and not only don't know their 
names, but don't know what they do.) He never registered at a 
hotel because he would "bed" with the animals in the barn. I tried 
to draw him out as to who he was or where he came from you 
know, after a few beers you get curious but he never told me. I 
am sure he was no count or baron or lost heir of a big estate; the 
guy's English was worse than mine but he was a real nice guy. 
When he got liquored up, his first thought was for his animals. 
He'd call 'em by name like they were his kids. He'd make excuses 
for the "tough" ones like a mother would for her black sheep. The 
only thing I was sure of was that he was Irish; he would drop us 
a line once a year on St. Patrick's Day, and would recall when we 
were together on that day. 

I could listen to his "circus slang" for hours. I once asked him 
why he left a certain circus and he said, "No pay-off. I was tired 
of working just to hear the band." I asked him what he did in 
the winter? "I wear an overcoat," was his answer. He called ele- 
phants "rubber cows." Putting the tent up was "getting the rag 
in the air." He told me that all the circus and carny guys would 
wear white handkerchiefs around their necks so that on a "Hey, 
Rube" call they would know each other when they started swing- 
ing with stake pins or blackjacks. "Hey, Rube" was the call for 
help among circus guys when a "towner" would start to make 
trouble. I asked Slanty how did the call start? I've asked many a 
circus guy that question and they all give you a hunky-dory answer, 

Lefty's Letters 17 

but Slanty gave me an answer that I think sounds pretty true. He 
claims that it started when a rube (a farmer or rural guy) was 
caught peeking into a gal's dressing room on the lot, and some- 
one yelled, "Hey, Rube, what you doing there?" and started beat- 
ing him up. That was Slanty's explanation of the expression and 
it's the best I've heard. 

Here is what he told me about looking for a job with a circus, 
in his own real circus slang. "Things are rough and I could use 
some scratchso I asked, 'Do I wear a monkey suit or my own 
front? I'll gladly come in on the thumb route. Grind or Bally?' " 
Meaning, does he have to talk all the time or only before each 
show? "What's the line/' meaning how much salary? "How much 
time off to scoff?" or does a guy get a chance to eat in peace? 
"Do we work with the 'first-of-the-May' boys?" meaning, will he 
be associated with inexperienced helpers? 'Tm great with lame- 
brain shows/' which meant he worked with freaks. A "life show" 
(incubator baby show) spieler would say, "I worked for 'pickle punks' 
at Cooney Ireland/' 

A broad was known as a "bree/' a guy, "a gee/' a shill, "a stick/' 
and a sucker was always "a monkey." 

Me and Aggie liked Slanty a lot and we liked the animals he 
took care of as he did. With a bow to the trainers, me and Aggie 
still say all the Slanty guys made it possible to carry on these great 
animal acts. Lots of people don't remember Slanty but I'll bet 
the elephants do, even if they can't remember vaudeville. SEZ 

Your pal, 


Monologists and Entertainers 

Dear Joe, 

The other day me and Aggie were talking about vaude in general 
and nionologists in particular. Practically a lost art today! Why? 
Because it was the toughest act to do in the vaude biz. This will 


probably bring smiles to the faces of the guys and gals that have 
watched a guy with no make-up and wearing street clothes stroll 
out on the stage and just gab get big laughs and stroll off and 
not a bit of sweat on his brow. It burned up acrobats, dancers, 
sweaty comedians, and guys that had to work physically to get by. 
But no other effort in the field of entertainment demanded such 
originality or made such heavy demands on the nervous system. 
There were maybe fifty thousand acts in show biz (counting the 
lay-offs), and there were only five real monologists among them. 
Which proves it wasn't an easy racket, or else there would have 
been thousands of monologists, because actors like "easy" work! 

That's why in the hey-hey days of vaude the monologist was 
king! He was envied by all the other performers because he didn't 
have to carry any scenery, orchestrations, or wardrobe, and didn't 
have to put in hours of practice like acrobats, jugglers, and dancers 
had to do. All the monologist needed was a stage (a platform 
would do) and an audience. The only music he would use was 
something "faked" to bring him on and a few bars (played forte, 
to cover up no applause) to take him off. The pit musicians loved 
monologists and sketches because it gave them at least twenty 
minutes to play pinochle while the act was on. Many of the 
monologists never had a regular finish; when they thought they had 
done enough time, they'd walk off on the next big laugh\ To the 
audience and to many of the actors it looked so easy, but to do a 
straight monologue (just gab) was the hardest of all specialties! 

The real monologist had to depend on himself. There was no- 
body to feed him, no songs or gimmicks to help him, and nobody 
to share his "flop sweat." He had to know how to switch routines 
when the one he was doing wasn't getting over. He was on his own; 
he had nothing to help him but his wit and humor and per- 

In the early 'yos and '8os, in the days of the honky-tonks and 
free and easies, there were hardly any monologists. It was very 
noisy in those places and hard for any one man to get attention 
from the rowdy audience. They usually did short gags, danced, or 
plunked a banjo for insurance. It was later-day variety that devel- 
oped the straight monologists. And they really came into their own 
when the reserved seat policy came in. 

Early monologists worked in blackface, then they did tramp, 
Irish, Dutch, Hebe, and Italian characters, and finally did "straight" 

Lefty's Letters 172 

stuff. A true monologist didn't use songs, parodies, dancing, musical 
instruments, or acrobatics to put him over. His job was to get 
lausihs through just "gabbing." A storyteller is different from a 
real monologist in as much as his stories are disconnected. Same 
goes for "topical talkers," who are not really monologists, although 
they are according to Noah Webster. But I'm talking show biz, 

The "entertainers" had a half a dozen gimmicks and so were 
able to get laughs and applause much easier. You've seen many a 
single guy, who would try to be funny for twenty minutes and not 
even get a chuckle, finish with a dynamite song or dance or other 
gimnrck which was bound to put him over as a hit! 

When I tell you these monologists were great, I may tell you 
what they did, but you can never write down how they did it! 
After all, it was personality that put over 65 per cent of all 
monologists, plus good material. 

As I said before, a real monologist just did "gab," but there were 
a number of guys who, if you don't get too technical, really were 
monologists, with 95 per cent of their act consisting of gab, who 
finished with a song or dance or other insurance. I am putting 
them here because many of them really didn't need anything but 
their gab to put them over for laughs, but still they also liked 
applause and the only way to get a lot of it was with insurance! 

It's funny that I should start our list (and not in the order of 
their importance) with a guy me and Aggie never saw, but after 
talking for hours with guys who did know and work with him, or 
saw him perform, I respect their judgment enough to believe 
he must have been the greatest! So we nominate as the king of 
all monologists, J. W. Kelly, "The Rolling Mill Man." 

Kelly, who had been a steel-mill worker, would go on the stage, 
sometimes take a chair to sit on when he couldn't stand, excuse 
himself for sitting down, and ask the audience what they would like 
to hear. Any subject called out by the audience provided him with 
a monologue that had them howling for a half an hour or more. At 
one time he had a continuous run of twenty-five weeks at Tony 
Pastor's. (Pastor's was surrounded by saloons; Kelly loved that.) 

Stories about him told to me by Junie McCree, Steve Malcy, 
J. C. Nugent, and George M. Cohan (they all worked on bills 
with him) are fantastic. I realize as we grow older we put on rose- 
colored glasses when we talk about the past, but I'll take the word 


of these guys that Kelly was the greatest ad-libber they ever heard. 
Today "fast boys" use stock "ad libs" and parts of routines they 
have heard and remember. Not }. W. Kelly! So me and Aggie salute 
J. W. Kelly, "The Rolling Mill Man/' a guy who was voted by all 
who were fortunate enough to see and hear him as the tops! 

George Fuller Golden started as a pug in Michigan, where he 
was born, a funny start for a guy who was to become our first 
intellectual monologist. He used to dance a bit too, and when he 
got tired of punching and being punched, he teamed up with big 
Jim Dolan (later Dolan & Lenhar) and did a dancing act. When 
they split, Golden did a monologue. He was a handsome guy with 
curly hair and a face like a poet (which he was). He read all the 
classics and was a great fighter for the rights of others. He founded 
the White Rats and fought for the actor all his life. He could rattle 
off poetry and chapters of the Bible by the yard. 

He was the first American to appear in a command performance 
before the King and Queen of England! His monologue consisted 
of talking about his friend "Casey." He had Casey one season in 
Paris, the next at a wedding, etc. He spoke perfect English (a nov- 
elty for a monologist or any actor in those days) . One of his stories 
which I remember, and which no doubt you've heard (if you listen 
to radio and watch TV), but of which he was the originator was 
this one: 

"One day I was riding on top of a bus in London with my friend 
Casey. I was nearly worn out with several hours of sightseeing, and 
the bustle and excitement of the London streets, the hoi polloi, 
the Billingsgate, and the rattle were becoming almost unbearable, 
when we came in sight of Westminister Abbey. Just as we did so 
the chimes burst forth in joyous melody and I said to Casey, 'Isn't 
that sublime? Isn't it glorious to hear those chimes pealing and 
doesn't it inspire one with renewed vigor? 7 Casey leaned over, with 
one hand to his ear, and said, Tou'll have to speak a little louder, 
George, I can't hear you/ I said, Those magnificent chimes. Do 
you not hear them pealing? Do they not imbue you with a feeling 
of reverence? Do they not awaken tender memories of the past?' 
Casey again leaned forward, and said, 'I can't hear you. You'll have 
to talk louder/ I got as close to him as possible and said, 'Do you 
not hear the melodious pealing of the chimes? Do they not recall 
the salutation of old Trinity on the Sabbath morning? Do they not 
take you back to the dim vistas of the past when the world was 

Lefty's Letters m 

young and touch your heart with a feeling of pathos?' Casey put 
his mouth close to my ear and said, 'Those damn bells are making 
such a hell of a racket, George, I can't hear you!' " 

He was blacklisted by the managers for organizing the White 
Rats. He later contracted TB and was taken care of by his fellow 
actors, who loved him and what he stood for. Years later, when 
he was finally allowed to come back to vaudeville, it was too late. 
It wasn't long before he died, and all of show biz "bent a knee" for 
him. He was cremated and his ashes were flown above the Statue of 
Liberty, where George M. Cohan sprinkled them. A gentle soul 
was George Fuller Golden. 

Charlie Case was the most original in style and material of all 
the monologists I ever saw. He wrote his own material, which was 
all about his family: true American humor, exaggeration at its best. 
Charlie was partly colored. His mother was a Negro and his father 
of Irish stock. While doing his act he would play with a tiny piece 
of string. He wouldn't (or couldn't) go on the stage without it, 
and one day, when someone stole it, he didn't go on the stage. 

Charlie Case suffered more from pirates than almost anyone in 
show biz. In fact, entertainers are still using his stuff on radio and 
TV, but it's not like Charlie Case. Arthur Hopkins, the noted 
producer, said that "Charlie Case was the greatest master of un- 
expected statement in the world!" Although light-colored, he 
blacked up (as did Bert Williams) and always wore black gloves 
and a black suit. 

"I was born in Lockport, New York," he'd say. ''But a number 
of other cities have claimed me. Take Yonkers and New Rochelle. 
They have been arguing about my birthplace for five years. The 
Yonkers people claim that I was born in New Rochelle and the 
New Rochelle people claim I was born in Yonkers/' 

Charlie Case started doing his act in white face in 1910, because, 
he said, there were "so many blackface comics around/' He was 
working for the Loew Circuit at the time. 

He died of what was called a self-inflicted wound while cleaning 
his revolver in his room at the Palace Hotel on West Forty-fifth 
Street, New York, in 1916. When his wife was notified in Lockport, 
she dropped dead! 

I believe that Charlie Case and Bert Williams were two of the 
greatest artists the Negroes gave to vaudeville. Both were entirely 


different types, Charlie Case a pure monologist and Bert Williams 
a song-and-dance comedian and excellent pantomimist. 

James J. Thornton walked out on the stage dressed in a black 
Prince Albert, wearing glasses and holding a newspaper in one 
hand, and with the other hand he would raise his forefinger over 
his head (a la Dr. Munyon) and in a deep rich voice would say, 
"One moment, please!" Yep, he was the one and only James Thorn- 
ton (later James & Bonnie Thornton). He was known as a pretty 
good guy with a bottle and would get a terrific laugh when he 
would acknowledge his reception with, "Thank you. I'm glad to 
see you soberl" He worked dead-pan, and pronounced every word 
clearly and delivered his monologue more like a sermon. He would 
sing his own composition, "Sweet Sixteen" (when he was able), 
but didn't need any songs or gimmicks to put him over. He was 
99 per cent monologist! 

There have been many stories told about this great artist but I 
like the one about the time he went to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 
and didn't like his billing and spot on the bill, and told the manager 
he was quitting. The manager, all excited, said, "You can't walk 
out!" Thornton fixed him with one of his extra-special alcoholic 
stares and said, "Christ walked out of Bethlehem. So can James 
Thornton!" and left. And I like the time he played in Wilkes- 
Barre, Pennsylvania, for Johnny Galvin (one of the real great man- 
agers), and Jim wasn't doing very well, but there was a young 
comic on the bill who was knocking the audience for a goal at 
every show. He came to Jim's dressing room and said, "Mr. Thorn- 
ton, you see what a riot I am here. Why can't I get a date in New 
York?" Jim looked at him over his glasses and said, "Because you 
are a hit in Wilkes-Barre!" 

Jim was a well-educated gentleman and a fine artist when he 
wasn't under the influence of liquor, and even then could out- 
monologue many a sober guy. During prohibition he was playing 
the Palace and received a great ovation. In his curtain speech he 
said, "I surprised you, eh? I have been on the wagon for a year. 
(Great applause.) I see all around me what liquor is doing, and I am 
saving rny money . . . (More big applause.) . . . and when I have 
enough I shall open a speakeasyl" 

Joe Welch was another of the greats. It's strange but true that it 
was three gentiles around 1896 who started the "J e w comic" vogue. 
But it was Joe Welch, a Hebrew, who practically originated and 

Lefty's Letters 176 

started the Hebrew monologue. Where the others did bits and 
stories of the character, Joe did a complete monologue! Another 
funny thing was that the Hebrews in the early variety days did 
Irish, Dutch, and blackface. 

Joe came on stage to what practically amounted to funeral 
music wearing misfit coat and pants, hands in his sleeves, derby 
hat over his ears, and beard brushed to a point. He stood center 
stage, faced the audience for a half a minute, and with the saddest 
look ever on a human pan, said, "Maybe you tink I'm heppy?" 
That's all, brother! From then on he took over with a terrific belly- 
laugh monologue about his troubles with his family, with hood- 
lums, in court, and in business. It was Joe's original story, which 
has been in about every joke book in the world, that went, "The 
other day I took mine son to a restaurant to get a bowl of zoop. 
Jakey commenced to eat and den grabt me by the arm and sed, 
Tapeh, dere's a fly in my zoop/ I sed, "Eat der zoop and vait till 
you come to the fly, den tell de vaiter and he'll bring you another 
bowl of zoop for nudding!" I first saw Joe at Pastor's, then at the 
Thalia Theatre on the Bowery in a melodrama called The Peddler, 
in which he starred. Nearly all the Jew comics patterned after his 
style and delivery. But nobody touched him. He was in a class by 
himself a great and original artist! 

Julius Tannen was one of the real great monologists of our time. 
(Even Aggie agrees with me on that.) He started in show biz as a 
mimic imitating Raymond Hitchcock and especially George M. 
Cohan, then turned straight monologist! He had a fine command 
of English, but would like to switch in the middle of his mono- 
logue into "dese, dose, and dems"- maybe just to show he was the 
same kind of a guy that was sitting up in the gallery. I remember 
when a heckler at the old Colonial Theatre yelled something at 
him and he said, "Save your breath, you may want it to clean 
your glasses later." Some of his famous cracks were, "I was as wel- 
come as a wet goat," "Those paper cups that give you a sensation 
of drinking out of a letter," "Pardon me for being late I squeezed 
out too much toothpaste and couldn't get it back," "I sent my 
collars out to the laundry to be sharpened." (These were all topical 
at the time.) Hearing a loud noise backstage, he said, "Sneak 

Tannen did a general monologue covering matrimony, politics, 
news of the day, etc., but all done in regular monologue form. He 


would walk off on a gag or a poem. A fine wit, a fine gentleman, 
and I'll lay you six, two 7 and even he can outmonologue anybody 
around today! 

Fred Niblo was a cultured and original monologist. He was once 
the husband of Josephine Cohan, sister of George M. He doesn't 
need this identification any more than Josephine has to be identi- 
fied as the sister of George M., because they were both great artists 
in their own right, Fred was a handsome-looking guy and a "class" 
monologist that made 'em laugh plenty. 

It was Fred who originated a gag that's been used by many 
comics and "unquoted" in many a joke book. "I asked my girl to 
marry me. And she told me to go to Father. Now she knew that I 
knew her father was dead, and she knew that I knew the life he had 
led, and she knew what she meant when she said, 'Go to Father!' 
Well, we weren't married!" After leaving vaude, he became one of 
the great pic directors in Hollywood. A great monologist and a 
great guy. 

James J. Corbett, the ex-heavyweight champ of the world, was 
the only pugilist who became a top straight monologist! He really 
told stories, but they were so cleverly dovetailed that he could 
honestly be called a monologist. He was a handsome-looking guy 
and was a natural actor. His story that became a classic and has 
been repeated in many ways since was about the man who came 
backstage to see the champ and insisted he knew him. "Where do 
I know you from?" asked Jim. The fan said, "Don't you remember 
when you beat John L. Sullivan at New Orleans, you stood on the 
back of the train passing through Chicago and there was a big gang 
to meet you; there must have been a couple of thousand people?" 
"Yeh, I remember that/' said Gentleman Jim. "Well, don't you 
remember me? I was the guy with the brown derbyl" That story 
became a classic! He loved show folks and vice versa. 

Andy Rice did a Jewish character, but with a difference. After 
Joe Welch, there were a number of Jewish comics who stuck to 
the old make-up, crepe hair, misfit clothes, hat over the ears, etc., 
until a man by the name of Jess Dandy "cleaned up" the character. 
He didn't use any of these traditional things. He did what Barney 
Bernard and Alexander Carr did many years later in Potash and 
Perlmutter. He was a fine monologist, but didn't play vaude very 
much, as he made a hit in musical comedy. The next man to bring 
even a greater change in Hebrew monologues was Andy Rice. He 

Lefty's Letters 178 

was dressed immaculately, used just a slight dialect, and, with one 
of the greatest monologues ever written by Aaron Hoffman and 
delivered plenty good by Andy, added up to a big hit. 

He spoke about a wedding. "There were two hundred in the 
grand march, we invited one hundred, expected eighty, so we or- 
dered supper for fifty! The supper was a success, very little pushing. 
The hall was decorated with shamrocks from an Irish ball the night 
before. They must have had a great time, because every chair in 
the place was broken! We had three detectives watch the presents 
and my three brothers watched them! We had fine presents. Rosen- 
bloom sent his card, the tailor his bill, Mrs. Bloom a fruit bowl, 
cut glass cut from a dollar to ninety-eight cents! Stein the crockery 
man sent six little Steins and could they eatl The wedding cake 
was made like a ship. The little Steins were left alone with it, and 
they sunk the shipr 

Andy retired as a monologist and became a great comedy writer. 
He wrote many reviews and vaude acts and pics. Many Hebe comics 
followed Andy's lead and threw away the crepe hair and generally 
cleaned up their make-ups. 

Rube Dickinson was a different type "rube." In the early days of 
variety (and even on the legit stage) the farmer or rube was por- 
trayed with a large straw hat, overalls tucked in his boots, a long 
chin piece, and a straw in the mouth. He was supposed to be a 
"sucker" for "city slickers." Then along came a little fellow dressed 
in a Palm Beach suit and a clean Panama hat, with a short neat 
white beard and carrying an umbrella. This was Rube Dickinson, 
who did a new type "rube" monologue, sort of a wisecracking 
farmer. His monologue started a new trend. Instead of the farmer 
being a stooge for the "wise city fellers," he turned the tables on 
the "slickers." 

Rube told about going to a society party in New York. He said, 
"What interested me most was the necks of the women. Why, 
some of the necks I saw last night reached from the ears down 
almost to where the mermaids become fish!" And, "My folks asked 
me did I think there was enough going on in New York to amuse 
me? And I told 'em I wasn't taking any chances; I'm taking my 
checkerboard with me/' And, "There's one thing I didn't do while 
in New York, I didn't buy a gold brick but I'm saving up!" 

He always had fresh material and was a big hit. He met an un- 
timely death, while^playing Kansas City, when the marquee of the 


newly built Muelbach Hotel caved in on him. A fine guy and a 
great artist! 

Tom Lewis, the man who originated the catchword "Twenty- 
three" (they added skiddoo to it later) in George M. Cohan's 
Little Johnny Jones was an old-time trouper from Frisco with 
schooling in the honky-tonks and graduate work at the Palace! He 
did an original monologue (which has been copied since natu- 
rally). He would start a thought, but when he got to the point he 
never would finish it and would go immediately into another sub- 
ject. Of course you could guess the finish of the gag, but he never 
actually said it. It was not "pointless" stories but a very funny 
monologue, which Jack Donahue revived many years later. Tom 
Lewis was a great trouper (he was at one time the blackface comic 
of Sam Ryan & Tom Lewis a hit team) and a real swell guy. He 
was the master of his type monologue! 

Ben Welch, the very talented brother of Joe, took the other 
angle of a Jewish comic. He did a lively, cheerful, wisecracking 
Jew, in contrast to his brother Joe's sad Jew. He also made a change 
to an Italian character (a very quick ten-second change), and did 
both characters very well. He soon discarded the Italian characteri- 
zation and just did the Jew. He went to burly and became a star, 
but came back to vaude and became a big card on all bills until he 
"blacked out." It was never announced to the audience that Ben 
was blind; he wanted no sympathy applause, but the audience was 
hep. He had to get away from his monologue and do a two-man act. 
Frank Murphy, an old burly pal, did straight for him and took 
care of him like a baby. Ben was a great comic (when he could see 
or when he was blacked out) and Frank Murphy was a great 
straight man, besides being a great guy and a loyal pal. 

Me and Aggie can remember Ben's entrance; he ran out on stage 
shooting a couple of cap pistols. 

"I vas to meet her here at halluf past six. It is now five o'clock. 
Vile I'm vaitin 7 for her, I'll go home! How do you like my suit? A 
fine piece of merchandise. I got it in a restaurant. The fellow is still 

"I bought a house in Malaria Junction. A large bingelow mit 
eleven rooms and two vindows. A bedroom so large I can change 
my shirt in it mitout going outdoors. 

"Ve got two kinds of vater clean and dirty. Steam in the pipes 
in Julyl 

Lefty's Letters I8 

"My oldest boy is seventeen years old. He smokes Oakum! He 
asks, 'Has anybody got change for a million dollars?' Last night he 
bought St. Louis.' He has a little silver pencil he sticks into his 
wrist. Last time he stuck it in his arm, he was elected governor. 
He stuck it in rny arm, and I paid the rentl" 

Two great artists in one family, Joe and Ben. That only happens 
once in a great while. 

Julian Rose was another great Hebrew monologist, with a famous 
monologue, "Levinsky's Wedding." He was a Philadelphia book- 
keeper who went into show biz and became a headliner almost 
overnight! He was a Jew comedian in the old-school tradition; 
make-up heavily exaggerated, baldhead wig 7 long beard, etc. But he 
had a great low-down monologue that got plenty of belly laughs. 
When he wouldn't change his make-up and methods, which be- 
came outdated in America (there were no Hebrews left here who 
looked or acted like his portrayal), he went to England on spec 
and became a favorite and one of their headliners. 

He pulled the original line when talking about a Jewish wedding 
where Finnegan, the Irish janitor, oozed in and started a fight, "Ah, 
he was no fighter, me and my two brothers and a cousin nearly 
licked him!" 

Once at the old Friars Club I asked him why he didn't change his 
act. He said, "Why should I change an act that gets big belly 
laughs everytime I do it?" I had no answer. 

J. C. Nugent is a guy who's been "booked outta town" for some 
years now, but me and Aggie will never forget him, because I 
learned a lot about show biz listening to him. He knew plenty. He 
started in stock, rep, and medicine shows and went into variety, 
with his own written sketches in which he played with his wife, 
son, and daughter (Elliott and Ruth), and later with others (as I 
told you in the letter about sketches). He was a self-educated guy 
and a fine speaker. He had a terrific memory and could rattle off 
routines by the hour. 

He spark-plugged the first White Rat strike and was blacklisted 
oy E. F. Albee. It was the best thing that ever happened to him. 
He wrote a play, Kempy, with his son Elliott (now a star and great 
Hollywood director) and invited E. F. Albee (the man who black- 
listed him) to the opening night. Albee came. J.C. told me that 
that was one of the greatest thrills he ever had, to see E. F. Albee 
there and of course the show was a hit! 


Nugent in vaude played "neat" drunks (there's a new one); by 
that I mean he was always dressed immaculately and was not a 
staggering, blubbering drunk, but acted just a bit tipsy. As a monol- 
ogist he walked on with white tie and tails, high hat (and of course 
pants), and started to rattle off a funny line of classy gab sort of 
philosophical (See what you can do with a Thesaurus?) gab. He was 
a lot like Ezra Kendall, not in material or delivery, but because he 
kept the chuckles rolling until they became a wave. 

He would come on and say, "I'm so glad to be here. Fm lone- 
some. I got lonesome in my hotel room this afternoon. I took all 
my Christmas presents and drank half of them." "I'm glad I 
was good to my mother when I was a kid. I could never sit around 
and see her do all the work. I couldn't stand it I used to go to 
bed!" He would finish up by asking the audience to call out any 
subject and he would talk about it for a minute (a la J. W. Kelly 
but only for a minute instead of thirty). He had one of the finest 
one-minute talks about the late President Woodrow Wilson that 
I ever heard. 

I loved the guy. He was a fine gentleman, a fine actor, a fine 
writer, and a fine monologist! 

Charles "Chic" Sale was one of our great "character" monolo- 
gists. His characters were from a country school; he did the teacher 
and some of the pupils and the caretaker, and other small-town 
characters. His old man playing the "tuby" was a classic. About 
ic)o6 Chic came into the Palace with a new act in which he intro- 
duced a new character, a small town "smarty" who was always 
called the "wise guy." He said, "I'll just tell you a couple of riddles 
and make a Vise crack 7 before I have to beat it back to the pool- 
room." Then he'd take a pair of dice from his pocket and slyly 
toss 'em in the air, before spying someone in the audience he knew 
and giving a stiff wave (as only he could do it) with a huge hand 
and gangly arm. He'd yell, "Hi-yah, Roy. How did you get home 
that night? Huh? Oh, you laid right there!" It wasn't long before 
the whole country was using the expression, "wise crack" and yell- 
ing, "Hi-yah, Roy" to each other. 

He had a routine about a Sunday School entertainment with new 
steam heat clanking through it, "entertainment with steam," as 
the teacher announced it. His little girl character spoke a piece thus, 
"Would I fly East? (flying to the right) Would I fly West? (flying 
to the left) No, I would fly back South for I love it best back, 

Lefty s Letters 182 

back, back, to the land of charm (fluttering back) back, back, 
back, where things are warm (bumping into the radiator and burn- 
ing her fanny) Ouch! That thing s hotl" It is funny that such a fine 
artist, who did so many fine things in vaude, shows, and pictures, 
will be known by future generations by a thing he wrote kiddingly 
and which sold millions of copies, The Specialist, which in its own 
way was great. But me and Aggie think his act was greater! 

James J. Morton, the "Boy Comic/* was one of our favorite 
people. You just had to laugh at this big 250 pounds of man who 
worked with a dead pan and acted as an overgrown kid trying to 
make good. Way back in the '905 he did an act with his wife, 
Maude Revel. Then he became a monologist ; a new type of monol- 
ogist, because he sang songs without music and without rhyme. His 
poetry had no sense to it and his jokes were pointless, but he made 
an audience yell. He was what we in the profesh would call ? 
"semi-nut" act. He would come out after an encore and say, "I 
am sorry, folks, when I was on the acting shelf (he called the stage 
an acting shelf) I left out a couple of lines of the song I sang, so I 
will sing 'em now." And he would sing a couple of lines with 
absolutely no sense to them. He would talk about the acts on 
ahead of him, and in 1906 he did his first job as a professional 
M.C. It was at a Ted Marks 7 Sunday Concert at the American 
Theatre, on West Forty-second Street. Instead of music to bring 
him on and take him off, he would just use the drummer. He would 
tell you what the next act was going to do, which had nothing to 
do with what the act really did. He was a very comical man. I put 
him down as a monologist, although he sang a song. Sometimes 
he didn't even sing the song, but just explained what the song was 
going to be about. He did 98 per cent talk and what talk! 

To us, the most tragic story in the life of Big Jim was the one 
about him advertising in all the trade papers for many years that he 
was James /". (not James C.) Morton. The James C. Morton was 
of the team of Morton & Moore, who carne from burly and played 
a lot of vaude, and when they split he did an act with his wife and 
kids. There was a great feud between James J. and James C, for 
many years. James J. was a big spender, always giving wine parties, 
and when vaude was gone and there were fewer and fewer places to 
play, he was pretty old and ill and finally decided to spend the rest 
of his years in the Actors' Home. It wasn't long before he died. 
Sometime later a headstone was placed on his grave. The headstone 


read JAMES c. MORTON! It doesn't matter, they were both swell 
guys, and I'll bet Big Jim looked down, smiled, and said, "Can you 
imagine, after all the advertising I did?" 

Frank Fay was made to order for Broadway. He had wit, poise, a 
sense of humor, could give out with "asides" that the Palace audi- 
ence loved, but which Oshkosh didn't understand and didn't care 
about. He certainly was not a "road" comic, unless it was in Chi- 
cago, Frisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and Philadelphia. It wasn't that 
Frank was too smart for the small towns; it was that they were too 
smart for him. They just didn't like a "city slicker/' and Frank was 
a city slicker he was strictly for what we called the "smarties," 
not that they were smart, but they just happened to know "the 
language" he spoke. 

Frank had a certain something that was really great but he just 
didn't hit the top level in vaude that he should have, I mean way 
up there with Jolson, Wynn, Cantor, Benny, Hope, etc. Me and 
Aggie never met an actor yet who didn't say Frank Fay was a very 
very clever artist. How can you go wrong saying that after you look 
at Fay's record! 

Walter Brower was one of the smoothest, slickest, cleanest, and 
most talented monologists we ever worked with. He came from 
Louisville and spoke with a soft Southern accent. He brought fresh- 
ness to the old courtship and wedding routines. "The wedding sup- 
per was the finest I ever sat down to I sat down three times. There 
was only one chicken and the way everybody made a grab for the legs 
was positively disgraceful although the two I got were delicious!" 
He would work in his street clothes, no make-up, but he always 
brought a new pair of shoes (wrapped up in a newspaper). He 
would put the new shoes on before making his entrance. I asked 
him once why he did this. And he said, "Lefty, when you got new 
shoes on, you're dressed up!" 

He was a standard act for many years, but never got into the big 
money and billing class. It was partly his own fault, as he never took 
his work seriously. He certainly had a great talent. He would finish 
his act with a poem he had written called, "The Prodigal Girl" a 
tear-jerker, but he did it "classy/' 

David D. Hall is unknown by that name to the vaude fan because 
he never used it. He spent thousands of dollars in advertising 
"D.D.H.?" and was known to vaude fans by just those initials. 

He brought a new twist to the very old "stump speech," using 

Lefty's Letters m 

the same props of a stand and book and the method of "yelling 
over his points." He was dressed in a professor's mortar and gown 
and was supposed to sell encyclopedias. Taking each subject that 
was on the page he turned to he talked about it in a highly comical 
way. He had great routines. He was going great guns when he was 
stricken with TB and had to retire; he never did come back to the 
stage. If he went on TV today his material would be as fresh as a 
new chorus girl, A fine monologist. 

Johnny Burke built up a monologue that became a "cameo of 
humor" that outlasted two wars! After World War I he did a 
monologue about the troubles of a draftee; he was a riot with it. 
The smart guys in show biz began shaking their heads and saying, 
"Yeh, yeli, he's a riot now, but what's he gonna do when the war 
is over?" Well, he kept on doing the same monologue, with the 
same results. The war vets and their families and other people too 
were still laughing. Then along came World War II (which I 
don't think Johnny's agent started so he could get his commission) 
and Johnny got a shot in the arm again. The wise guys shook 
their heads again, saying, "J oh - nn y can>t da that old stuff - He wil1 
have to get an entirely new routine, all about this war." But Johnny 
kept the old routine, dressing the same as he always had in a 1917 
outfit, and became a bigger hit than before. The new draftees 
laughed because they saw there was practically no change in the 
"beefs" from the other war! 

I know there were minstrel men after the Civil War that talked 
about the war, and drafts, etc., and I also know there were some 
after the Spanish-American War (like Lou Anger) that talked 
about it, but up to the time Johnny first did his monologue there 
were just loose gags, no organized routine, and Johnny was the first 
to do a complete monologue about the troubles of a draftee. At 
first he used his comedy piano playing as insurance, but later cut 
it out because he didn't need it; he had a dozen belly-laugh exit 

Nobody did Johnny's routine after World War I 7 as they didn't 
think it would last, but after World War II there were dozens of 
GIs who entertained their fellow GIs in camps with gags about the 
war, draftees, tough sergeants, K.P., Big Brass, guard duty, cow- 
ardice, heroism, etc. They are sure-fire topics in any war, I don't 
believe any of these youngsters ever saw or heard Johnny, and when 
they were discharged they started in show biz (having had a taste 


of getting laughs) and naturally did the stuff they had heard in 
the camps. One of them came out with a terrific monologue and 
got into the big dough. He is really a top monologist today; his 
name is Harvey Stone. But I am only writing about the guys of 
the old Palace days. These newies will get plenty of credit years 
from now, but I had to put it in. Johnny and Harvey did the same 
type monologues, with entirely different material. I doubt if Harvey 
ever saw or heard Johnny, but just for the record, Johnny Burke 
was the first to do a complete monologue about a draftee. 

Joe Laurie, Jr., did a straight monologue talking about his family 
and relatives. He'd come on in street clothes, wearing a cap and 
smoking a big cigar (his trade mark). He would say "Hello" and 
finish with "Good-by." His gimmick was to bring on his father and 
mother (?) who were standing in the entrance watching their 
son (?). This couple were a fine-looking pair, dressed in street 
clothes, no make-up, and they acted as much surprised at being 
brought out as the audience was. Joe would talk about them for 
fifteen minutes. They never sang, danced, or uttered a word, and 
at the finish would just walk off throwing a kiss to the audience. 
It was the first and only time stooges were used without doing 
anything! He later followed this with a sequel introducing his 
"sister Annie" who also stood there without doing anything while 
Joe spoke about her and her boy friend. He later added nephews 
and nieces who sang and danced (that was when vaude insisted 
on "sock finishes/') Joe even did a few steps at the finish (anything 
to keep up with the times). But even his dancing didn't help 
vaudeville; in fact, some say it helped kill it! 

Doc Rockwell, "Quack, quack, quack! 7 ' belongs to the really 
great monologists. He, too, was in vaude when you needed (or felt 
you needed) insurance to get off big. So Doc used to play a tin 
whistle for a finish (and very well too) after gabbing for twenty 
straight minutes. But the score of belly laughs he scored proved 
he didn't need the tin whistle. I believe it was John Royal, then 
manager of Keith's in Cleveland, and a great showman, who had 
Doc break in his act at a Rotary Club luncheon in that city. Doc 
needed a "spinal column" to illustrate his "lecture." The best the 
property man could do was to get him a large banana stalk. Doc 
used it, and it was such a big laugh that he never used anything 
else. Doc is a fine student, a great reader, and a very intelligent 
guy, and his monologue about the human system, medicine, etc. 

Lefty's Letters 18S 

was not only intelligent but hilarious. Today he comes in for a TV 
or radio appearance with his pal Fred Allen to kinda get a little 
green stuff to bait his lobster pots with at his place in Boothbay 
Harbor, Maine, where he spends most of his time. 

In my book, Doc Rockwell brought a new note to the monolo- 
gists* art, and was (and is) one of the tops! They don t come any 

Johnny Neff (formerly Neff & Starr) was another novelty monol- 
ogist. As the proprietor of a music shop, he would start his talk, 
holding an instrument in his hand, as if he were going to play it, 
and during his gab he would lay the instrument down and pick up 
another one. He would go through a half a dozen instruments 
without playing any of them, and meanwhile putting over a swell 
line of laughs. He did it all so naturally that sometimes someone 
in the audience would yell out, "Hey, you forgot to play that 
trombone!" (or whatever instrument he happened to lay down). 
He certainly brought a new note to monologism. (That's Aggie's 
word, and she can't spell either. ) 

Harry Thompson, 'The Mayor of the Bowery/' was sort of a 
rough Walter C. Kelly. He did an act a lot like Kelly's, but instead 
of a Southern court as a background, Harry did a night court in 
New York City. His characters were rough and very unsubtle (if 
you know what I mean) . He was stage-struck and would do an hour 
if you let him (and, by the way, keep 'em laughing all the time) . 
It was a standing gag that when Thompson went on, the stage 
manager would say, "Here, Mayor, is the key; lock up the store 
when you're through/' Thompson played very little two-a-day but 
was an excellent monologist and a big favorite, especially on the 
small time, and in some houses a drawing card. 

Taylor Holmes started as a mimic and later became a fine monol- 
ogist and also a star in legit. He did the regulation monologue, 
using matrimony, courtship, etc., that got plenty of laughs. He fin- 
ished with a poem, "Gunga Din," which he used for some time 
and got great results with. Along came a young fellow by the name 
of Clifton Crawford (a great artist) whom Keith was pushing 
along as a headliner, who also put "Gunga Din" in his act. (He 
really did it great.) The Keith office asked Taylor Holmes as a favor 
to cut out the poem for a few weeks as Crawford was following 
him in and it was the top spot of his act and it would take the 
edge off, etc., etc. Taylor cut out the poem as a courtesy (and also 


not to get in wrong with the booking office) . And Crawford be- 
came more and more important and "Gunga Din" was his insur- 
ance and the audience began calling for him to do it. A few 
months later Taylor Holmes thought it was about time to 
use the poem again. He did, and was accused of doing "Crawford's 
stuff" and had to take it out. You can't argue with the public. It 
got so that every act that needed an applause finish used "Gunga 
Din"! Some theaters had signs backstage saying, "If you use 
'Gunga Din/ don't even unpack!" Taylor Holmes had a fine per- 
sonality and plenty of class. (By the way, he was on the opening 
show of the Palace.) 

"Senator" Ed Ford spoke on topics of the day. He worked with 
a dead pan and with a voice almost as deep as Jim Thornton's. He 
used perfect English and had his own material that was sure-fire. 
He would open his act saying "Although my name is Ford and I 
was assembled in Michigan, I am in no way related to that obscure 
Middle Western manufacturer who put a radiator on a roller skate 
and called it an auto or manufacturer of knickknacks." He was 

Joe Browning, in his "timely sermon," was another dead-pan 
monologist. He dressed in a black Prince Albert, white gloves, and 
white tie, and looked and acted like a preacher. Once in a while 
he would give out with a "sickly" smile (showing blacked-out 
teeth) which was always a yell. His monologue went something 
like this. "Brethern and Sistern! The text of my remarks will be 
sweet femininity and her relation to the masculine jellyfishl 
Woman woe man\ Man meaning nothing. Definition of female 
a wonderful invention. Definition of man a flopl Woman 
feminine. Man assininel 

"Average age of female Who knows? Male Who cares? Aver- 
age weight of female about 115 pounds. Above that all scales are 
wrong! Nature of female mostly kind. Nature of Man mostly 
dumbl Woman stands at the altar and promises to love, honor, and 
obey Man promises the same thing but reserves the out-of-town 

Browning wrote all his own stuff (beside writing many acts for 
others) . A sure-fire monologist. 

Hugh Dougherty, the famous minstrel, was one of the first to do 
a "stump speech" (the oldest form of monologue). All you needed 
was a stand and a big book, and to black up and holler like an old 

Lefty's Letters !88 

Baptist preacher talk about any subject and to slam home the 
point yell it and hit the bookl It was sure-fire. There were a num- 
ber of minstrels who did this type monologue. Then it kinda died 
down, until Jack George and Slim Timlin revived it and did very 
big with it. They were two very good comics. 

Arthur Rigby was a great minstrel monologist who never hit the 
headline spots but was a good standard act on the Big Time for 
years, with his great monologue and his famous $10,000 challenge 
dance. At the finish of his monologue he announced that he would 
pay $10,000 to anyone that could beat him dancing. He would go 
through a lot of preparation with the orchestra, etc., and go into a 
time step, then start doing a "nerve roll" with his left foot, then 
try to do it with his right foot, get stuck and go back to the left foot 
and a time step, then try his "roll" with his right foot again, and 
muff the roll again. He would do this a few times, then finally turn 
his back to the audience and do the roll with his left foot, which 
was the right one to the audience. It doesn't sound funny in reading 
it, but it was a big yok; it must have been or else a half a dozen 
comics wouldn't have stolen it. When Rigby got to the end of his 
'life route/' he was in his home town of Paterson, New Jersey. A 
local priest came to give him the last rites. He asked the priest to 
please call Father Leonard of St. Malachy's in New York (the 
actors' church) to give him the last rites. The local priest explained 
to him, "It's all the same, my son, no matter who gives it to you." 
Rigby smiled and said, "Yes, I know, but Father Leonard will fire- 
proof me better!" 

Loney Haskell was a fine monologist, and one of the best things 
he ever did was his "stuttering stuff." He was the first to do what 
is now an old gag, about the man who stuttered and asked a news- 
boy the way to the depot. The newsboy didn't answer him, and the 
man walked away in a rage. A man who was standing nearby, 
watching this, asked the boy why he didn't answer the stuttering 
man. The kid looked up and said, "Wh-wh-wh-what? And g-g-g-get 
my h-h-h-head kn-kn-kn-knocked off?" Loney became better known 
when he quit vaude and became an assistant to Willie Hammer- 
stein. In that job he acted as M.C. for certain type "freak acts" 
and it was through his gab that he helped put many of them over. 
His monologue on "Don, the talking dog" was a classic. 

Walter Weems did a blackface monologue using perfect Eng- 
lish, and a slight Southern accent. He had great material, which he 


wrote himself. He knew how to get laughs. He also used insurance 
in the form of a French horn, which he played very well. Walter 
was one of vaudeville's best. 

George Roesner, as the "Old Soldier," was also one of the out- 
standing vaude character actors. He did an old Civil War veteran 
who liked his liquor. It wasn't a new character, but he made it 
seem fresh the way he did it. I remember one of his lines, 'Tin 
going to town to get drunk and /iow I dread itl" He was a very 
well-educated man wrote, edited, and published everything for 
his monthly magazine, Pan. He would take any side of an argu- 
ment. Once he asked an actor, "Do you believe in God? Take 
either side/' I remember that when we played on the bill together 
at Loew's Greeley Square Theatre in New York he pulled a line on a 
heckler that has been claimed by many, but it was Roesner's. When 
the heckler got real bad 7 George stepped to the footlights and, 
pointing to this guy in an upper box, said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, 
there you see the greatest argument for birth control!" A delightful 
and interesting companion and a swell artist. 

Frank Tinney was the most natural comedian I ever saw. He got 
more out of a silly line than any comedian I have ever heard. To 
tell what he did sounds like nothing (I've heard many imitators 
who failed) . He had the quality of a mischievous kid when he was 
telling a joke. He was a great monologist, even though he used 
the leader of the orchestra as a foil in part of his act, and also 
played the bagpipes for insurance. 

He would go to the leader and say, "I'm going to recite some 
poetry, I am. Now, you must ask me why I am going to recite 
serious poetry? Go ahead and ask me." And the leader would say, 
"All right, why are you going to recite serious poetry, Frank?" 
"Because I'm ambitious, I am." The leader would then say, "I 
don't think it's ambition, Frank, I think it's a hangover." Frank 
would look surprised and say, "No it isn't a hangover. Now you 
ask me why it isn't a hangover, and I'll answer you. (Turning to 
the audience he would whisper, "This is gonna be dirty.") Go 
ahead and ask me." "Well, why isn't it a hangover, Frank?" "Be- 
cause I was out with you last night, and it was your turn to treat!" 
You wouldn't believe he had an audience laughing hysterically 
With this sort of stuff. You can't write down a delivery or a person- 
ality. He just was great! 

Raymond Hitchcock was a lot like Frank Tinney, not as to mate- 

Lefty's Letters 19(J 

rial and delivery (entirely different), but as to personality. You 
just had to see and hear him to appreciate him. With him, espe- 
cially, it wasn't what he said but the way he said it; in fact, he 
never did have "sock" material. He would speak about almost any- 
thing, topics of the day, and during prohibition he did a monologue 
on booze, and he always looked as if he was half stewed, without 
playing the part of a drunk. The most remarkable thing about 
Hitchy was that even some of his best friends believed he was a 
drinking man. The truth is, Hitchy never took a drink in his life. 
And you can bet on that! 

Jack Benny we knew when it was Salisbury & Benny and later 
when it was Benny & Woods; he played the violin and his partner 
played the piano. When they split, he branched out as a monolo- 
gist and became one of the real great ones, using his fiddle for 
insurance. He is suave, classy, witty, and can time a gag better than 
anyone I have ever seen. Can you say more about a guy, except that 
he is a nice guy, too? 

Charles Kenna really brought a novelty character to vaude, the 
"pitchman." Willie Hammerstein got him right off the street, 
where he was doing a "low pitch 77 selling a potato peeler, and made 
him a standard act. He was plenty original and a natural funny 
man. His material was copped by many acts; it got so bad that he 
put ads in the trade papers reading, "Please let me know what stuff 
of mine you are using, so I won't have to follow you in with the 
same material. I'll change mine." It was a subtle way to get back 
at the "stealers" and prove to the managers that he was original. 
And don't let anybody tell you that the expressions, "It's an old 
army game," and "Go away, boy, you're bothering me," belonged 
to W. Q Fields. It was Charles Kenna who used both these ex- 
pressions in his act many many years before Fields even talked on 
the stage. One season, after playing a few dates at Hammerstein's, 
he couldn't get any immediate bookings, so he booked himself at 
Huber's Museum on East Fourteenth Street, and advertised, 
"You've heard of acts coming from Huber's Museum to Hammer- 
stein's; this is one guy who is going from Hammerstein's to 
Huber's/ 7 Huber paid him a very big salary (for Huber) , but he 
had to do at least eight shows a day to get it. He had a funny song 
he'd finish with, but didn't need it. A natural funny man was this 
guy Kenna! 

Bert Swor, an old and dear friend, was one of the vet comedians 


of minstrelsy and worked in vaude when he wasn't starring in Al 
Field's Minstrels a great trouper who started in honky-tonks and 
reached stardom. He was the original partner of Charlie Mack 
(Swor & Mack); Charlie later became the owner of the "Two 
Black Crows" (Moran & Mack) . Bert had a very funny monologue. 
In it he would take out an old piece of butcher's wrapping paper 
and say, "Just S ot a fetter from home/ 7 Then he would read the 
letter, which was plenty funny and got plenty of belly laughs and 
at the finish he would read, "God bless and keep you from your 
loving Maw and Paw." Yeh, I know you've heard the comics use 
this on radio and TV, but it was Bert Swor who originated it. Bert, 
like many others I have mentioned, did a 99 per cent monologue 
and used a song or even a short dance for a finish. A very funny 
man was Bert Swor. 

Eddie Foyer was a peculiar type of monologist. He did straight 
talk, no songs or dancing, but most of his act consisted of reciting 
poems. He would open with a routine about how a tough waiter in 
a tough restaurant would call out the orders to the cook. When a 
customer ordered "two eggs on toast/' he would shout, "Adam 
and Eve on a raft and keep their eyes open." (That meant, don't 
turn 'em over.) If someone ordered hash, he'd yell, "Gentleman 
wants to take a chance." Another customer would order hash too. 
Waiter would yell, "Another sport!" "Waiter, where's my boiled 
potato?" "Mrs. Murphy in a sealskin coat!" Etc. etc. After this 
routine he would recite "Gunga Din" (always sure-fire), then he 
would ask the audience what poem they wanted to hear? He would 
do a half a dozen a show, and the audiences loved it, even the 
tough audiences. He would recite very theatrically, plenty of ges- 
tures and with plenty of voice in the high spots. He once told me he 
knew five hundred poems by heart. What a filibustering senator 
he would have made! 

Ed Wynn, now celebrating his fifty-second year in show biz, 
used his crazy inventions as the gimmick for his monologues. He is 
one of our greatest buffoons. His billing, "The Perfect Fool/' tells 
the story. He wrote his own stuff and prided himself on always 
doing a clean act. There never was another Ed Wynn; though many 
tried to copy him, they just couldn't do it. He started in vaude and 
had many partners, but reached his height when he went on his 
own, and became a great comedian and star in musical comedy. 
A guy that can last fifty-two years in show biz, and remain up 

Lefty's Letters 192 

there in lights and big-bracket dough in all the branches of show 
biz (with all the terrific competition), must be a very funny man 
which Ed Wynn certainly is! 

Beatrice Herford was one of the first real female monologists 
and had the field to herself for a long time. I also believe she was 
one of the first to do a one-woman show. On concert tours there 
were quite a number of women singles who did a lot of gab, mixed 
up with songs and dances. But Miss Herford did a straight series 
of monologues with no gimmicks! She was really great! 

Tom Mahoney, a big heavy-set Irishman, was another one that 
gave the old stump speech a new twist. He acted as chairman at 
an Irish rally, and instead of a gavel he kept order with a brick\ 
A fine monologist who got plenty of laughs. 

Cliff Gordon represented the real big belly-laugh monologist in 
his act, "The German Senator/' which really was another switch 
of the stump speech, using timely topics of the day. He did a dumb 
"Dutch" orator who tangled up the English language (as all Ger- 
man comics did), and it started a new style of "topics of the day" 
talkers. It had been done before Cliff Gordon, but never in his 
"excited" style. He would start off on a subject quietly, but by the 
time he got to the point he would be so excited that he'd get the 
whole thing balled up. He had great material, fresh as a baby's 
breath, written by the greatest comedy writer of his time, Aaron 
Hoffman. When the Lusitania was launched, Cliff said, 

"This is surely a great country we live in, full of mountains, 
valleys, and bluffsl This is a great age. Look at the Lusitanid with 
its modern improvements, elevators and everything. All you got to 
do when you feel her sinking is to take the elevator upstairs/' 
(This was long before the tragic end of the Lusitania.) 

When Cliff died, Aaron Hoffman authorized Milt Collins to 
cany on with the same monologue (freshened weekly by Mr. Hoff- 
man), and also "Senator" Murphy (who is still doing it as an 
afterdinner speech). They were both great performers and got 
plenty of laughs, but it just wasn't Cliff! By the way, Cliff's right 
name was Saltpeter; his brother was at one time the head booker 
of the Orpheum Circuit, besides having a great background as a 
vaude agent and vaude-act producer (Lewis & Gordon), and a 
pretty swell guy in his own right, but Max will tell you that Cliff 
was not only tops in vaude but also tops of the family! 

Harry Breen was born on the Lower East Side of New York City, 


and talked about the people that lived there; it was really very 
funny. His recollections of the East Side got just as many laughs 
out of town, because they were funny in a folksy way. Breen did a 
sort of semi-nut act. He was a writer of songs and acts, and was the 
best of the extemporaneous singers. He would pick out people in 
the audience and sing about them, which had been done before, 
but Harry did it just a little better. Like: 

"There's a lady sitting over there 
In the second row on the third chair. 
She has her hand up to her face, 
And the hat she has on is a disgrace." 

He would make up verses about what the audience was doing. 
He was a fine artist, and what a guy in a gabfest! 

James Richmond Glenroy originally did a double act with his 
wife (Richmond & Glenroy); on her death he took the name of 
James Richmond Glenroy and did a monologue. He was billed 
as the "Man with the Green Gloves." (Guess why? Yop, because 
he wore green gloves.) He introduced a new kind of monologue, 
using epitaphs that he read in cemeteries for laughs (and got 
plenty) ! Like: 

"Rum is a curse, and many it kills; 
But this unfortunate took some pills." 
(Aside he would say, "A foolish move on his part, I'm sure." 

"Off a fast-moving car stepped Lizzie Russell; 
Too bad she didn't wear a bustle." 

"Here lies my husband, Harold Cain, 
Let him rest in peace till we meet again." 

"Here's where the body of Mary Nash is, 
She ran a boardinghouse; 
Peace to her "hashes'." 

"A bulldog chased Eliza Fair, 
It bit her on her never-mind-where." 

Jim was a very funny man even off stage. 

Walter C. Kelly, "The Virginia Judge," was the greatest dialecti- 
cian of his time. He could do any dialect and do them all great. 
He would come on stage dressed in an alpaca coat, walk over to 

Lefty s Letters IM 

the table, pick up the gavel and imitate an Irishman as the court 
crier: "Hear ye ? hear ye, the court of the Great Sovereign State of 
Virginia is now opened!" He then would act as judge of a small 
Southern town, and as the different cases came up he would speak 
in the different dialects of the defendants and plaintiffs. 

"You here agin, Lem? What you do this time?" 

"Ah din t do nothing Jedge. The railroad run over my mule and 
killed him and they won't pay me. They won't even give me back 
my rope." 

"What rope?" 

"Why, Jedge, de rope ah done tied de mule on the track wif ." 

"Go on now, you're lucky I don't have you hung with it. Get 
out! Next case. . . . Well, Sam, I see where you are charged by 
Milligan, the arresting officer, with stealing a watch. What have 
you got to say for yourself?" 

"Jedge, I jes' wanted to know the time." 

"The time is five yearsl Take him away, Joe." 

For a finish he would imitate a small Negro boy: "Say, Jedge, 
Colonel Stevens wants to know if you want to go fishin'; he sez 
they're bitin' pretty good." 

"All right, tell him I'll be right along. Court adjourned!" 

He was born in Philadelphia but spoke in a fine Southern drawl. 
He was a big hit in Europe and also played in legit shows. 

Will Rogers, I believe, was the greatest of them all (as long as 
we put the "topics of the day" guys in the list and also the guys 
who used insurance). He used a rope; certainly didn't need it 7 but 
he never gave it up. I told you about J. W. Kelly, "The Rolling 
Mill Man/' and I don't doubt that what my friends told me about 
him was true, but this guy Rogers we all saw and heard and knew. 
He was in our time. We know that in the Ziegfeld Follies he 
changed his act every show for a year. He wrote columns for the 
papers that are just as fresh today as they were twenty-five years 
ago. That proves something. In our time nobody that I know of 
touched him for a combination of humor, grass-root philosophy, 
and ready wit. He capsuled whole editorials into a few lines and 
got laughs out of truths. He also knew his Broadwayites and how 
to talk to them and best of all knew how to talk to the folks 
everyplace else. 

There have been so many guys who claimed they got Bill "to 
talk." I was pretty close to the guy and, believe me, you didn't 


have to get him to talk. Fm a pretty good gabber myself, but the 
guy outfoxed me many a time. To settle all arguments, here is 
what Bill told me and Aggie and Al Ochs (a buddy of his, now a 
Hollywood agent) one night in our room at the Sylvania Hotel 
in Philadelphia. 

He started out doing a straight roping act, then added a horse 
and rider, etc. Well, one day he missed a trick (as you know, he 
was really a great roper), and he made some remark (which he 
didn't remember) ; all he knew was that it got a laugh. Now, in 
those days when a "dumb act" (which he was) got a laugh, it 
meant a lot. The next show he kept in that "miss," and made a 
new crack, and little by little he kept adding laughs to his "misses." 
Getting a laugh for a dumb act is the worst thing that can happen 
to them; they begin to believe they are comedians. Well, Bill got 
better and better and added "side remarks" (not routines) and for 
fresh material looked in the papers and soon started remarking, 
"All I know is what I see in the papers," and started talking about 
topics of the day. With his natural wit and humor, he soon real- 
ized that his roping was just a side line or insurance. Now Joe, 
doesn't this sound truer than those other claims, like, "Ziggy made 
him talk," when he already had been talking for years and had 
appeared in a legit musical show, The Wall Street Girl? It was his 
talking that made Ziggy buy him. 

His monument out in Oklahoma not only stands for a great 
American but a fine philosopher and the greatest stage "topics of 
the day" gabber of our time! 

I know you are gonna tell me that I left out a lot of monologists 
guys like Heywood Broun, who really did a great monologue at 
the Palace, and Bugs Baer, who could have been one of the best, 
but he liked printer's ink better. I am sure you'll find most of 'em 
in some of my other letters. I just wanted to give you an idea of 
the many great gabbers vaude had. 

As for the "entertainers" in vaude, we had thousands of 'em! I 
mean the single-men entertainers who sang, talked, danced, played 
instruments, gabbed, used stooges and plants, and did acrobatics 
and even paper tearing. These I separate from the straight 
monologists, although many of these entertainers did swell talk 
routines, but they depended more on songs, dancing, etc. Most of 
them were what we call "socko" acts, and would hold down the 
next-to-closing spots, which is an honor spot. It didn't mean that 

Lefty's Letters I9 

you were a headline! or got the most money of the show, but it 
did mean that the hooker figured you could follow a hit show and 
"hold 7 em in" after a bad show. Both tough jobs for an act away 
down on the bill. The next-to-closing act got good dough and good 
billing (if it didn't happen to be the headliner). There were few 
men headliners, compared to the number of them in show biz. 
Many were split headlineis, not strong enough at the box office to 
go it alone, so would split headline honors with another act. But 
most of the good ones were features or bottom, special, and added 

The average single man was a crazy guy, traveling alone (some 
were married, of course, and even carried their "excess baggage'' 
with them) , but most of them were on the loose. They had no prob- 
lems of scenery, costumes, or make-up. They had nobody to take 
half the blame when they flopped. Between you and me, many 
men singles (and that goes for many acts too) had a good open- 
ing and, what was more important, a smash finish, and in between 
used a lot of baloney or what we called "time-wasters." Many an 
act got over because of a great finish, with nothing real good ahead 
of it But the hookers could never forget the big applause that 
may have earned the act a half a dozen bends at the finish, which 
means a hitl 

Everybody introduced today is called a "headliner." The truth is 
that there were few headliners, especially single-men entertainers. 
There were many standard acts that played vaude season after 
season and were plenty good. There were single men who came 
from a hit show and naturally were headlined (or co-headlined) to 
take advantage of their box-ofEce value at the moment. These are 
what we called "strays"; they would just play vaude between shows. 
Many regular standard acts would be headlined in the smaller 
towns, especially if you just came from the Palace. (I saw an acro- 
batic act headlined in a small town because they had played the 
Palace.) But when they got back to New York and the regular big- 
time circuit, they would go back to their regular billing. The aver- 
age single man was free from sex appeal and had to depend on 
being funny or entertaining. 

Al Jolson was the greatest of all American entertainers. Al started 
with an act, Jolson, Palmer & Jolson. (Palmer worked from a wheel 
chair.) Then Al went out and did a single blackface act on the 
Sullivan & Considine Circuit. He ran ads in the trade papers read- 


ing, "You never heard of me, but you will!" (He was a great hit 
on the Circuit.) Then he joined Dockstader's Minstrels, in which 
he was a riot. He went over so big that Dockstader gave up his own 
next-to-closing spot to AL (And Lew was a great big favorite but 
realized he couldn't follow this kid, who was just great.) When 
the show laid off, Al played Hammerstein's and was a riot, played a 
few more vaude weeks, then rejoined the Dockstader show. He 
then signed with the Shuberts, and a few years later plaved a week 
at Brighton Beach for $2,500. He never played the Palace (just 
got up one Sunday night, at the request of Dave Apollon, the 
M.C., and sang a few songs) . It was many years later that he made 
a tour of the pic houses and broke records. Just a dynamite guy! 

We figure that Sir Harry Lauder was the greatest of all inter- 
national entertainers because he played as a headliner all over the 
world and always in vaude. Jolson and Lauder were two entirely 
different types. Lauder was deliberate and slow, while Jolson was 
nervous and fast. Lauder received four and five thousand dollars 
a week for many many years and broke BO records all over the 
world. They were two great artists. Al got the edge on Lauder for 
publicity when he was on radio and in pics (which went all over 
the world). But I am only telling you about vaude, and as for 
vaude, there is no argument that Lauder was the greatest (Jolson 
didn't play enough vaude to really compare) . Harry Lauder never 
played the Palace, either! 

Some of our great entertainers were Englishmen, like Wilkie 
Bard, Albert Chevalier, Clifton Crawford, George Lashwood, 
Will Fyfe, and Laddie Cliff. 

But we had plenty of American artists who could match them as 
entertainers. I am not mentioning them in the order of their im- 
portance, no more than I did in my other letters to you; it wouldn't 
be fair and it would take an awful lot of hard work, and besides it 
would only be our own opinion! Me and Aggie figure that the top 
all-round artist of today is Jim Barton, who was a burly comic, a 
skater, a storyteller, a dancer, a singer, a dramatic actor, and a pic, 
radio, and TV star. He can also play an instrument and baseball! 
There were many single men that could do many more things, but 
Jim was tops in all the things he did! I know I won't have room 
to name all the great single-men entertainers, but here are a few 
that come to mind (see if you agree): Eddie Cantor, Joe Cook, 
Henry E. Dixie, Lew Dockstader, Honey Boy Evans, Joe Frisco, 

Lefty's Letters 198 

Eddie Foy, Sr., Frank Fay, Bunny Granville, Ralph Hertz, Will 
Mahoney, George Price, Jack Norworth, Pat Rooney, Sr., Harry 
Richznan, Ted Lewis, Bill Robinson, Nat Wills, Willie Weston, 
Emest Hogan, Richard Carle, Fred Allen, Phil Baker, Milton Berle, 
Ben Bemie, Sam Bernard, Billy ''Single" Clifford, Richie Craig, Jr., 
Thomas Potter Dunn, Jack Donahue, Eddie Dowling, Harry Delf, 
Billy Glason, Bob Hall, Bob Hope, Jimmy Hussey, Bert Hanlon, 
Al Herman, George Jessel, Henry "Squigiluin" Lewis, Harry B. 
Lester, Hal Neiman, Oscar Lorraine, Will Morrisey, Ken Murray, 
Carl McCullough, George Munroe, Bobby North, Blackface Eddie 
Ross, Herman Timberg, Billy B. Van, Violinsky, Al B. White, 
Harry Fox, Dave Ferguson, George Beatty, and William Dillon, 
and of course the one and only Bert Williams. ( Yeh, I know, there 
are at least 250 more that should be in this list. But the publisher 
yells about the cost of paper. The guy never saw real vaudeville.) 

Storytelling was a specialty. I don't mean the single guys who 
threw in a story in their act, but the men that were specialists in 
the art (believe me, it is an art) . They, too, were monologists in a 
way, depending only on gab but as I told you before, they didn't 
have a plot, or continuity; they jumped from one story to another. 
Some put cement in between stories; by that I mean they hooked 
'em together by saying, "Then there was another little Irish- 
man . . ." or "That reminds me . . " etc. But there were a few 
really great storytellers in vaude. 

Leo Carrillo specialized in Chinese stories and did them the best; 
he was raised in California among them. (Billy Gaxton, his relative, 
also does swell Chinese stories off stage.) Frank Fogarty was one 
of the fastest Irish storytellers; he was usually two stories ahead of 
the audience a great teller of tales. Harry Hershfield, I believe, 
knows more stories than anyone in show biz, and is one of our 
experts in that line. Lou Holtz I certainly must put among the 
storytellers, and the great ones, too, although he used his song 
**O Sole Mio" for a finish, while the others just walked off. Walter 
C. Kelly, "The Virginia Judge/' had no equal in his particular line; 
he could do any dialect, while many of the others were limited. 
Robert Emmett Keane was swell, as were Dick Knowles and George 
Austin Moore (Southern stories). Marshall P. Wilder was a really 
great storyteller, but his material was mostly taken from others. 

And I am going to mention a guy very few of you know or have 
heard of, because he played very little vaude. He was a letter carrier 


and vaude interfered with his hours, so he mostly played clubs. 
But in my humble opinion he was one of the greatest storytellers 
I ever heard Bob Willis. But when you talk about storytellers, you 
must mention the pioneer, who remained the greatest for many 
many years. He could hold the stage for over a half hour doing 
dialect stories and have the audience hysterical. He was one of the 
first to do a Hebe character (he was a German, and very eccentric) 
and a headliner in his day. He played a tin whistle at the finish of 
his act, and musicians wondered at his skill; they claimed nobody 
could play the notes he did but he did it (between shows he 
would go around and sell tin whistles in the towns he was playing) . 
He was the greatest of 7 em all Frank Bush! 

There were entertainers, who were a bit different than the others, 
called "nut acts/' They were a vaude craze at one time; every show 
had one. Most of 'em were goofy guys off stage as well as on, 
Audiences loved 'em because they did the things the audience 
would have loved to do, like yelling, screaming, breaking hats, 
breaking the bulbs in the footlights, tearing drops, saying anything 
that came into their heads (that was first well rehearsed), etc. 
Among this private circle of "crazy guys/' the man crowned king 
was Bert Fitzgibbons, who started in show biz with his brother in 
a musical act (McCoy, Fitzgibbons Trio), later doing a single 
that included breaking footlight bulbs etc., singing, talking, sitting 
in women's laps, etc. etc. you just can't explain it, but it had the 
audiences roaring and applauding. Many tried to follow his antics 
and even tried to top 'em, but a funny side light is that when the 
booking office started to charge them for broken foots, torn drops, 
and other damage, the "crazy guys" toned down and didn't break 
or damage so many things. 

Other great nut acts were Ted Healey, Jack Inglis, Neil McKinley 
(who would bring out a ladder and sing to a girl in the box), }ack 
Rose (who started the breaking of hats), Joe Whitehead, Harry 
Rose, and of course the nonviolent nut act, James J. Morton. 
Charlie Wilson, "The Loose Nut/' besides his crazy act could play 
a good fiddle. Sid Lewis, who worked on the same lines as Fitz- 
gibbon, had some funny stuff of his own, Joe Towle, who billed 
himself as the "cleanest act in vaudeville/' played a swell comedy 
piano and used a keg as a stool. Of course the wildest nut act in 
vaude was Frank Van Hoven, billed as "The Mad Magician/' 
which he was. He only did a few tricks of magic, but he was a 

Lefty's Letters 20 

wild man who kept up a stream of gab with two kids who held 
cakes of ice in their hands and whom he tried to get to shake 
Iiands as he introduced them to each other. 

No, I didn't forget Duffy & Sweeney. They were too crazy to mix 
with these normal crazy guys. They say you don't have to be crazy 
to be an actor, but it helps! Well, these nut acts sure proved it. 
They were swell company; you never knew what they were going 
to do next, which is pretty interesting, especially when you are 

I realize there are hundreds of entertainers who played in vaude 
for years, real small time, some who never passed east of the 
Mississippi, some never west of it, and they were all a definite part 
of vaude (which didn't mean just the Big Time) . Many of them 
had talent, but just didn't get the breaks, or didn't look for them. 
Maybe they were afraid of the big towns and cities and were satis- 
fied playing small towns, working steady, saving a buck, having no 
worries, and being happy in knowing a lot of nice folks in the 
towns they played. They say actors are different than other people, 
to which I say nuts. There are lots of clerks, bookkeepers, auto 
workers, plumbers, etc., who have the ability to get ahead in their 
biz, but just don't care to move away from the things and people 
they feel comfortable with. They aren't built to "take a chance." 
They aren't gamblers or ambitious. They're satisfied. To kin da 
clinch my argument, Aggie just yelled from the kitchen, "How 
about country doctors, who have cured and taken care of more 
people and know more about medicine than some of the guys with 
their shingles up on Park Avenue, but wouldn't exchange places?" 
My Aggie is smart. 

Love and Kisses SEZ 

Your pal, 



The in Vaudeville 

Dear Joe, 

After the Civil War there were a few Negroes playing in the 
nonslave states. Most of them were in minstrel shows and buskin' 
in saloons or dancing on streets for throw money. About 1890 there 
were plenty colored shows (mostly minstrel). Some of the white 
minstrel shows, like Primrose & West, added about twenty-five 
Negroes to their white cast of fifty and were a terrific hit. But I 
want to tell you about vaude, not minstrelsy. 

One of the things that got Negroes into variety was a dance then 
known as the "chalk line walk/' which later became a hit as the 
Cakewalk. It was not exactly originated by Charles Johnson and 
Dora Dean, because the dance was done in many different ways 
in minstrel shows and even on plantations, but it was this really 
great team of Johnson & Dean who put it on the vaude map, and 
for many years they were big features on vaude bills both here and 
nil over Europe with their cakewalk! It became a craze and was 
taken up by many Negro acts (it was their dance) and sort of 
opened the door of variety to them. 

Another door opener was the "coon" songs. The first to become 
a hit with this type song was Ernest Hogan (his right name was 
Reuben Crudus). At one time he had played an end with Bert 
Williams in a minstrel show before George Walker joined up with 
Williams. In 1897 Hogan did a skit, introducing the cakewalk, in 
Ed C. Rice's "Summer Nights" on the Casino Theatre Roof. His 
own song "All Coons Look Alike to Me," was one of the first of 
that type and really started the craze. In later years he got into a 
jam with his own race, who were trying to get him to stop singing 
the song because of the word "coon." He kept on using it until 
he died. By the way, Hogan was the first Negro to play Morrison's 
Rockaway; he played a one-day date there. Ernest Hogan, besides 
"being a great artist, was also a fine song writer. 

When Williams & Walker first showed at Koster and Bial's, they 
were the talk of the town and stayed there for a long run and later 
tecame the greats of all Negro performers in or out of vaude. 

Lefty's Letters 202 

When they were billed at Hammerstein's as co-headliners with 
Walter C. Kelly, 'The Virginia Judge 7 ' (he was born in Phila- 
delphia), Kelly refused to be on the same bill with Negroes. He 
later played there to big biz, as did Williams & Walker. I person- 
ally believe it was one of Willie Hammerstein's press stunts, as it 
received a lot of publicity for both acts. I knew Walter C. Kelly 
very well and played with him on many bills on which there were 
Negro acts, and he never complained about them. The only other 
incident of this kind that I can recall happened years later (1933), 
when Mary Garden made her first pop-priced appearance, splitting 
top billing with the Mills Bros. (I believe it was at the Capitol). 
Grace Moore, because of this, demanded a no-colored clause in 
her contract and Loew called her booking off. The Chase Theatre 
(vaude) in Washington, D.C., caused a lot of talk when they 
barred Negroes from any part of the house, the only theater in 
America to do this. Outside of these few incidents, I have never 
known of a color line in vaude. Talent has no color. 

With the doors now opened by the cakewalkers and coon shout- 
ers, there came to variety many talented Negroes, mostly singers 
and dancers, Don't know why, but audiences would applaud a 
Negro dancer with inferior talent more than they would a much 
better white dancer; maybe it was because the average Negro 
dancer showed he enjoyed his work so much and "worked his feet 
off/' and that sold it to the audience. 

There were many great Negro song writers who went into vaude. 
About 1890 there was a contest between song writer Gussie Davis, 
a fine Negro ballad writer, and Jim Thornton. A gal by the name 
of Helena Mora (a great white singer) sang Jim Thornton's "It 
Doesn't Seem Like the Same Old Smile" and Gussie Davis's "Send 
Back the Picture and the Old Wedding Ring/ 7 It came out as a tic. 
The funny thing to me was that the Negro was going in for ballads 
at the time, instead of the coon songs that they wrote so well and 
were such terrific hits. Among the Negro musicians who wrote for 
vaudeville and shows were Bob Cole, Bill Johnson, J. Rosamond 
Johnson, Irving Jones (remember his great song, "St. Patrick's 
Day Is No Day for a Coon?"), Shelton Brooks ("Some of These 
Days"), Will Marion Cook, and many others. 

There were many colored acts on Broadway. Shows at the Casino 
Roof, Koster and Bial's, and the New York Roof were all practically 
made up of vaudeville specialties. One of the first Negro acts to 


play museums and variety houses was Sam Lucas and his wife. He 
was a very talented gentleman and the first Negro to play Uncle 
Tom in a white company; he was also a song writer; "Grandfather's 
Clock" (still being played) was one of his. In later years he played 
the Loew Circuit as a monologist, after starring in many colored 
shows. He ended up in pics, playing the part of Uncle Tom. He 
had to rescue Little Eva from a river, and he got pneumonia and 
died. He was the oldest and most respected of all the Negro per- 
formers of his time. 

Another great Negro composer was Jim Bland, who wrote many 
songs that were sung and danced in (and out) of vaude for years: 
"Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," "Them Golden Slippers/' and 
"In the Evening by the Moonlight." (All of these made many a 
bad quartette sound good!) 

Billy Kersands started out in the early '8os; he weighed about 
200 pounds and had a real big mouth (Joe E. Brown's mouth is 
just a cupid's bow against Kersands'). He did a buck and wing with 
two billiard balls in his mouth. He would say, "If they ever made 
my mouth bigger they would have to move my ears." He also was 
a great tumbler and dancer. His favorite song was "Mary's Gone," 
and besides doing a buck and wing he did a beautiful "essence" to 
Stephen Foster's "Sewanee River." In 1911 he made a comeback 
on the Loew Circuit; at that time he had five large soda crackers 
and a cup and saucer (regulation size) in his mouth while he 

According to the trade papers of 1907 there were 270 colored 
people rated as principals and about 1,400 colored performers 
altogether in show biz. Eph Thompson, Williams & Walker, Ernest 
Hogan, and Cole & Johnson were considered tops. 

Many of the standard Negro acts first started in vaude as picka- 
ninnies (Ernest Hogan and Jones Bros, started as picks). Single 
white singers would have from two to a half a dozen little picks in 
their act as insurance for a sock finish. I never saw any picks flop. 

Negro performers did more than just singing and dancing; they 
contributed their many talents to all lines of vaude. Mr. and Mrs. 
Tom Mclntosh did a skit in variety (about 1895) called "The King 
of Bivarid"; Tom also did knockabout comedy and played the 
drums. Although me and Aggie never did see a Negro do a sketch 
in vaude, there were a couple of fine sketch artists back in 1895 
Al and Mamie Anderson and Charles Hume and May Botrell. I 

Lefty's Letters 204 

don't know what happened, but there is no record of any more 
after that date. (Years later they played many dramatic sketches 
at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem.) Florence Hines was a male 
impersonator; the Great Gowongo, a magician; Allie Brown, a 
slack-wire walker (I don't know of another one who did this work); 
Wilbur Swetnian, a great clarinetist, played vaude for years. 

Williams & Walker started out with Walker doing the comedy. 
Avery & Hart were practically a copy of W. & W.; Hart was a bar- 
tender and doubled up with Dan Avery, who did Walker and 
looked like him too (he wore a big diamond ring outside his 
gloves). The Holiday Sisters (Grace Holiday and Ada Overton 
Walker) were a fine team. Ada, who married George Walker, was 
a great soubrette. She did "Salome" in vaude only Negro who 
did it on the Big Time. Cooper & Robinson once made up like 
Hebes and did a heavy burlesque dialect, doing an imitation of 
Howe and Scott, at Hyde and Behman's. (They split in 1910.) 
Bill "Bof angles" Robinson soon became a headliner and star (like 
I told you in my letter about dancers). Bojangles' first wife was 
Fanny Clay, who worked in a drugstore in Chicago. She would 
read him his scripts, as Bill couldn't read or write. He later divorced 
her and married Lamme Chase. Both very fine ladies, 

Charles Gilpin played a little vaude with the Jubilee Singers 
before he became the number one and first Negro dramatic star 
in Emperor Jones. Florence Mills worked as a pick in the Bonita 
and Lew Hearn act when she was a kid, and later formed the Mills 
Sisters (Olivia, Maude, and herself). She was also at one time 
part of Cora Green, Ada Smith & Florence Mills, playing the 
Pantages Time. Later she went with the Tennessee Ten. U. S. 
Thompson was the comic with the act, and they got married and 
did a double. She replaced Gertrude Saunders in Shuffle Along, and 
was a riot. She played the Palace and was a star with Lew Leslie's 
shows until her death. A wonderfully talented gal, besides being 
one of the finest ladies we ever met in or out of show biz. 

Miller & Lyles, who were Fisk University students, were a real 
great comedy act and played all the Big Time as a feature, then 
went to London in a review, and came back here to star in their 
own show, Shuffle Along, the greatest Negro show we ever saw. 

Tom Fletcher played a few vaude dates in the old variety days 
and also in regular vaude, but got away from it and became one 
of the greatest of the club entertainers. He was hired by million- 


aires and society folks for their big parties and yachting trips to 
keep them entertained. He could sing songs for hours and hours 
and never repeat. A fine artist. Fletcher Henderson & Eubie Blake 
once teamed for vaude. Blake later joined Nobel Sissle and they 
wrote the music for Shuffle Along* J. W. Cooper was the first Negro 
ventriloquist. Frank Rogers was another, as was Johnny Woods. 
The Kratons were the only Negro "hoop act/' Janet Collins was 
the first ballerina of note; she was half French. James O'Brien was 
a fine violinist. 

There were many real funny men among the Negro vaude acts. 
I've already mentioned some, but IVe just got to name such greats 
as Anderson & Goines (Anderson was the father of Eddie, the 
famous ''Rochester" of the Jack Benny show, who is not bad him- 
self); Buck & Bubbles, who were great in "Weather Clear Track 
Fast" (and Bubbles did swell in Porgy and Bess); Harry Brown, 
the first to yell to the audience, "Is everybody happy?" (that was 
in 1906); Butler and Sweetie May (better known as Butterbean 
and Susie); and Charlie Case, one of our greatest monologists. 
Cook & Stevens were a standard big-time act for many years. 
Canada Lee played a little vaude, doing songs and comedy. Fiddler 
& Shelton were the first Negroes to wear full dress in vaude and 
started a vogue (Fiddler was an understudy of Hogan's). There 
were Hamtree Harrington (a very funny man) & Cora Green, 
Jolly John Larkins (very good), and Arthur Moss & Edward Frye, 
who brought a new type of comedy for two-man acts (remember 
their "How high is up?") two very original and funny boys, who 
could sing plenty good too. Murphy & Francis billed themselves, 
"Though Irish by Name We're Coons by Nature." Rucker & Wini- 
fred, Tabor & Green and Epps & Loretta were acts with some more 
of the real funny men. 

Among the many great Negro singers who appeared in vaude were 
the Whitman Sisters, Louis Armstrong, Ralph Dunbar's Maryland 
Singers, the Ink Spots, Mamie Smith (first to do records), Mary 
Stafford, Josephine Stevens, the Tennessee Ten, Rolfe's Ten Dark 
Knights, the Norman Thomas Quintette, Sara Vaughn, Mattie 
Wilkes, Ethel Waters (who is not only one of the great song 
stylists but also the number one Negro dramatic actress), the Black 
Patti, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith (tops of the blues singers), Abbie 
Mitchell, Florence Mills, Maude Mills (her sister), Alice Mackey, 
Duke Ellington, Kate Griffin, the Golden Gate Quartette, Ade- 

Lefty's Letters 20@ 

hide Hall, Hodges Lunchmore (who did a feline opera), the 
Charioteers, Cab Galloway, George Dewey Washington, Carita 
Day, Desmond & Bailey (sister act), Old Time Darkies (big act), 
the Watermelon Trust (one of the real great big acts, and also 
one of the first), Mildred Bailey, Pearl Bailey, Josephine Baker, 
Ella Fitzgerald, and Cole & Johnson. I once asked Bob Cole why 
he tossed a large white silk handkerchief from one hand to an- 
other and up in the air while he was singing. He said, "Well, you 
see, the pipes ain't what they should be, and when I am supposed 
to hit a note that I can't, I toss the handkerchief in the air, and 
the audience pays more attention to it than to my voice and so 
don't notice that I didn't make it." (First time I ever heard of 
"misdirection" in singing.) He could sure sing a song, as could my 
old friend J. Rosamond Johnson a real great team. 

I think here is the spot for the story you told me about the time 
you had your "Memory Lane" act, which was a big act with sixteen 
of the great old-timers of vaude in it. They wanted you to play 
in Washington, D.C., but wanted you to bring the act without 
W. C. Handy, the daddy of the blues, and J. Rosamond Johnson, 
as they were afraid that it might cause trouble to have them work- 
ing with you and a dozen white men and women. You refused to 
play it unless they were with you, as you had already played down 
South and had been met by governors, mayors, etc., and Handy 
and Johnson had been received better than you (which they rated). 
Anyway, the Washington, D.C., manager finally O.K/d the date. 
He was a very nervous man before the act went on. It was a terrific 
hit. W. C. Handy took three encores (first time it ever happened 
in the act) and Rosamond went bigger than ever, too, singing his 
"Under the Bamboo Tree." The manager came back after the 
show and was tickled to death there had been no trouble, but 
asked you to please eliminate just one thing in the act, shaking 
hands with the two Negro performers. You refused and kept it in. 

What I like most about your story was how you called the 
manager backstage every day and showed him the many fine South- 
ern ladies and gentlemen who came backstage to see Bill Handy, 
and the ladies threw their aims around him while the men shook 
his hand heartily. They had known Bill when they were kids, be- 
cause he had played at their weddings and birthdays for many years 
down in Tennessee, and how happy and gracious they were about 
his big-time reputation! I wonder what that manager thought when 


he saw that people don't start riots when they see two decent 
people shaking hands, even if one hand is black. 

Me and Aggie never met two finer gentlemen in all of show biz 
than J. Rosamond Johnson and W. C. Handy, who not only gave 
us great music but great friendship. 

The Negro contributed plenty of color to vaude in more ways 
than one. SEZ 

Your pdj 


Printer's Ink and Grease Paint 

Dear Joe, 

Printer's ink and grease paint haven't always mixed well. 

Today feuds between actors and critics are practically things of 
the past. The critic seldom deals in personalities, and seems to 
prefer writing a good notice to a bad one; if he doesn't like the 
show or act, he picks on the producer and author, or even the 
scenery painter, rather than the actors. I've even seen notices where 
the critic was sorry for the actors! 

Not so many years ago the critics were pretty cruel, and so were 
the actors; they didn't have any paper space to answer back, but 
would do it by word of mouth at their clubs, or anyplace some- 
one would listen. They talked loudl I won't mention the names of 
the critics or the actors who said these things (many of them are 
gone, and anyway, why start it all over again?), but here are some 
of the things with which they steamed each other up. From the 

"So and So opened at the Orpheum last night. If they are not 
lynched this morning, there will be a matinee today/' 

"New York sent us one of their magicians last night. He was so 
good he made this critic disappear in ten minutes." 

"He fell on the stage. The audience was sorry to see him get up 
and continue his act." 

Lefty's Letters 208 

"More acting by the horse and less by the people would help/' 

A certain act missed a train and got into Frisco too late for the 
matinee. After the night show the local critic wrote, "So and So 
arrived late, but not late enough'/' 

About a juggling act, "All hands and no feat." 

"The kid is growing. It is the only indication of progress in 
the act." 

"The boys couldn't dance their way off a hot stove." 

"The act had something old, nothing new, plenty borrowed, and 
laughs are few." 

About a foreign dancer, "She left most of her youth abroad." 

"So and so sings three songs and wears three suits; the songs are 
good ones and his suits are white, brown, and black." 

Shortest review ever written for Variety (or any other paper) 
about a horse called Napoleon. "Giddap, Napoleon. Small time 
bound." (JOLO) 

"When a legit loses his voice he goes into vaudeville." 

"Vaudeville, a place where a great many bad actors go before 
they die." 

The actors returned the compliments: 

"Why, that paper won't even pan an act unless it advertises." 

"That critic is an optimist; he signs his name at the bottom of 
bis review." 

An actor, getting on the train, to a rural critic who gave him a 
bad notice, "When that engine toots, I'll be outside of your 

"It took me twenty years to perfect my act, and it only took you 
thirty seconds to become a critic." 

"I didn't mind you panning my act, because today's newspaper 
is the toilet paper of tomorrow." 

"A critic is a man who can take a clock apart, but doesn't know 
enough to put it together." 

Oscar Hammerstein was asked about a certain critic, "What 
does he write for?" "Like all of them do, for passesl" 

"Critic he's just a pcm-handler." 

"A reviewer is a guy whose parents wanted a boy." 

"A critic is a newspaperman whose sweetheart ran away with an 

These are just a few samples of the way it was. But they don't 
seem to do it anymore. Maybe it's because the critics figure there 


are no personalities like Maurice Barrymore, Richard Bennett, 
Arnold Daly, and many others, who, when baited, would answer 
them back in kind, which made another column. It is the trade 
papers that still criticize vaude acts, but it is constructive criticism. 

Most of the playwrights, theatrical press agents, and skit writers 
were raised in the nursery of the newspaper world. The temptation 
to make more dough has made many newsmen into top-flight 
playwrights, producers, managers, press agents, and vaude writers. 
A few examples are Jack Lait, Arthur Hopkins, Roy K. Moulton, 
W. F. Kirk, Bugs Baer, Bide Dudley, George Ade, S. Jay Kaufman, 
Neal O'Hara, and H. I. Phillips, who among them wrote many a 
vaude act. There were hundreds of others who wrote for the legit 
and musical-comedy stage. 

Critics William Winter, J. Austin Fynes, and Alan Dale repre- 
sented the drama critics of their day. Acton Davies and Alan Dale 
were figured as "eccentrics" of their time. E. D. Price, as "The Man 
Behind the Scenes" on the Morning Telegraphy was Broadway's 
first theatrical columnist. S. Jay Kaufman was the first columnist 
of Broadway to cover everything. 

Again space stops me from mentioning the many newspapermen 
who contributed their genius to scripting, from a few gags to 
sketches, plays, pics, radio, and TV. But to give you an idea of 
how important they were, I will mention just a few: Ed Locke 
(The Climax) , Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, Jack Lait (who 
wrote many vaude acts and plays, besides being a top critic on 
Variety), Alexander Woollcott, Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, 
Bozeman Bulger, Arthur Hopkins (who as a reporter scooped the 
country with the assassination of President McKinley, wrote many 
sketches, was press agent, manager, and booked animal acts at Luna 
Park, and also produced nearly all the shows starring Jack and 
Lionel Barrymore I know of no man who liked the "theater" any 
more than Arthur Hopkins), Paul Armstrong, Anita Loos, Bartlett 
Cormack, Bayard Veiller (who was on the Morning Telegraph as 
Robert Spears, then went with Proctor as a press agent, later writ- 
ing great Broadway hits), Maurine Watkins, Mark Hellinger, 
Wilson Mizner, Edna Ferber, Bide Dudley (did an act for four 
days at Yonkers), Claire Boothe, George S. Kaufman, Channing 
Pollock, Rennold Wolf, Maxwell Anderson, Marc Connelly, Law- 
rence Stallings, Morris Ryskind, Russel Grouse, Ward Morehouse, 
Don Marquis, J. P. McAvoy, Jo Swerling, Dorothy Parker, Mon- 

Lefty s Letters 21 

tague Glass, Max Lief, Allison Smith, Fulton Oursler, Irving Cobb, 
Adolph Klauber, John Anderson, Gilbert Gabriel, Charles Emerson 
Cook, Eugene O'Neill, George Jean Nathan, Jimmy Montague, 
Claude Binyon, Bob Sisk, Joe Bigelow, Jack Conway, Robert Sher- 
wood, Walt Whitman, Richard Lockridge, Augustus Thomas, the 
Spewacks, and Goodman Ace and these are just a few of the 
many type-stained vets who wrote for show biz! 

The Dramatic Mirror (an old trade paper) was an incubator for 
celebs. George Tyler, Frederick McKay, Porter Emerson Brown, 
Randolph Hartley, and Jules Eckert Goodman were former news- 
men who made good in show biz. 

Among the great press agents who were former newspapermen 
were Harry Reichenbach, the greatest of all stunt P.A.s, and 
Walter Kingsley, who covered the Manchurian battlefronts for 
the London Mail, before he did press work for the Palace and 
Ziegfeld. Bronson Howard, who wrote the great play Shenandoah, 
and Willis Brill, a fine PA., were also war correspondents. Charles 
Dillingham left the New York Sun to become advance man for 
Charles Frohman, and later became one of the most successful 
musical-comedy producers. George Atkinson of the Columbia Dis- 
patch is now the dean of the press agents. Bob Sisk (an old Variety 
mug) became P.A. for the Theatre Guild and now is one of the 
top Hollywood producers. Howard Dietz is not only a great P.A. 
but one of our finest lyric writers. N.T.G. (Nils T. Granlund) was 
Loew's great publicity man. Jesse Lasky, the noted Hollywood pro- 
ducer, once worked in the office of the San Francisco Post, Ruth 
Hale (Heywood Broun's wife) was P.A. for Arthur Hopkins, Fred- 
erick McKay, critic of the Evening Mail, was once husband and 
manager of Blanche Ring. Then there were Mark Leucher, John 
Pollack, Ann Marble, Lou Cline, Brock Pemberton, Wolf Kaufman 
(another ex-Variety mug), and Nellie Revell, who started in the 
circus, went into vaude with a monologue, and later became one of 
the greatest of the lady P.A.S. Ralph Kettering is not only a great 
PA. but also a playwright and producer-manager. And Bonfils and 
Tammen, publisher of the famous Denver Post, owned the Sells- 
Floto Circus. 

There were a few critics that also wrote plays: Jack Lait, Gene 
Fowler (yeh, he was a critic once) 7 Bartlett Cormack, Bide Dudley, 
George S. Kaufman, Channing Pollock, Rennold Wolf, Ward 
Morehouse, Alan Dale, George Jean Nathan, and a few others. 


Many newspapermen became stage-struck! The cartoonists, espe- 
cially, flocked to vaude, because it was vaude patrons who read 
the funnies. Harry Hershfield's gag fits perfectly here. When he 
was once asked if a cartoonist is a newspaperman., he said, "Is a 
barnacle a ship?" Cartoonists served long and well on the big and 
small time. Many headlined because of the popularity of their 
strip. They were, in a way, "freak acts/' Many of them just played 
locally where they had a reputation and small circulation. The 
first of the top cartoonists to play vaude was Windsor McKay 
(who invented animated cartoons). 

Tom (Mack) McNamarra (of "Skinny Shaner" fame) did an 
act with Meyer Marcus; they were the first to do a double cartoon 
act. Later McNamarra appeared with Bud Fisher. Others were 
Rube Goldberg, Richard F. Oucault (Buster Brown), George 
McManus (Jiggs & Maggie), Sidney Smith (The Gumps), Ken 
Kling (Joe & Asbestos), and H. B. Martin (illustrator and car- 
toonist). Even Milt Gross (Nize Baby) did an act that lasted a 
couple of weeks, and the great Tad appeared on a Sunday concert 
at the old Herald Square Theatre. Hy Mayer, the noted carica- 
turist, was on the Palace's first bill. Martin Branner, now doing 
the great "Winnie Winkle" comic strip, did a great dancing act 
on Big Time, with his wife Edith, known as Martin & Fabrini. 

Leo Carrillo and Bert Levy gave up their newspaper cartooning 
to remain in vaude. Harry Hershfield, a cartoonist and columnist 
for over a half a century, although still writing a weekly column, 
devotes most of his time to after-dinner speaking, and radio, stage, 
and TV storytelling, while Ham Fisher, Al Capp, and Bob Dunn 
also keep their voices and faces Agoing on radio and TV. 

Some more ex-newspapermen who took up vaude as a regular biz 
were Robert Dailey, Lee Harrison, Leo Donnelly, Russ Brown, 
Ezra Kendall, Billy Gould, }. H. Murphy (Adam Sourguy), Russell 
Mack, Robert Benchley, and Jack Barrymore (ex-cartoonist). 

The great old humorists like Artemus Ward, Josh Billings, Eli 
Perkins, James Montgomery Bailey, Bill Nye, Mark Twain, and 
James Whitcomb Riley were newspapermen who made pretty good 
side dough playing Chautauqua, which in those days was practically 
vaudeville. Even the great Elbert Hubbard played a few weeks in 
vaude opened at the Majestic, Chicago, did very well, and wrote a 
great article about how nice vaude was in his mag, The Philistine, 

Lefty's Letters 2U 

next week. He then played Cincinnati, where the gallery sort of 
Tieckled him, and he walked out and went home and vaudeville 
never saw him again. 

While I was telling you about cartoonists, I should have told you 
about what the professors call "an allied art" that was very popu- 
lar in vaude for many years. They were the rag-picture and sand 
-artists and clay modelers. The rag-picture artists would usually 
come on with a pushcart full of rags, put up an easel and stretcher, 
and pinning the rags on it would really make beautiful pictures, 
usually ending up with the Statue of Liberty or the American flag. 
The best in this work were the Clintons, Marcello, and Ralph 
Ralfaely. The sand painters put all kinds of colored sand in a frame 
-and made beautiful seascapes and also ended up with some patri- 
otic picture. Many of them would work upside down, then turn 
over the frame. Outstanding acts were Eldridge the Great, Jules 
LaRue & Jean Dupre, and Lieut. R. Eldridge, who did sand painting 
while his partner, Sally Randall, sang. The clay modelers also had 
a regular pattern. Some of them were really fine sculptors, but did 
clay modeling because it was fast and had some element of comedy 
in it, and besides I guess it was a faster buck than in sculpting. 
They would first make a few busts of famous men, then for comedy 
relief would make a "mother-in-law" and throw wads of clay at it, 
(or a bust of an unpopular political figure and throw a big chunk 
of clay at him, which would always get a big hand and a laugh). 
Gallando, Bicknell, Zoubalkis, McNamarra, and George Wichman 
were some of the best. 

Karlton & Klifford did water-color lightning drawings, Les Do- 
dattis did copies of famous paintings, Vandioff & Louie did novelty 
oil paintings. Sartello, besides drawing pictures of landscapes and 
Tnrds r also did magic. Froehlic did pics in crayons and oils, as did 
Karl Krees (very fast oil paintings) . Gene Smith was a great painter 
of animals and did wonderful horses' heads, and for an encore did 
a fast drawing of a lion and tiger. Sylvester (the most versatile of 
all vaude actors) also did speedy oil paintings. 

There were a number of cartoonists in vaude that I don't know 
if they were newspapermen; no doubt most of them had been at 
one time, but they certainly belonged in vaude guys like Arthur 
Birchman, Walt McDougall, Rem Brandt, F. A. Clement, Rouble 
Sims (a good comedy act), Harry Brown, who sang while cartoon- 
ing, as did Bowen & Cody. Florence Pierce was a quick-sketch 


artist, as was Lightning Hopper. Felix was a European cartoonist. 
Mr. Quick was a fast cartoonist, as you can guess from his name. 
Hubert DeVeau, George Paris, Jr., and the Great Weston were all 
good cartoonist acts. Then there were a couple of Frisco boys by 
the name of Billy Hon and Harry Price, who made a comedy 
entrance, one with an umbrella and the other sprinkling water on 
the umbrella; they did Tad and Rube Goldberg stuff. Harry Hirsh 
had a little Negro boy as an assistant. Lawrence Semon did four 
baseball figures and talked about them. R. C. Faulkner, who was 
the image of Woodrow Wilson (and cashed in on it plenty), did 
cartoons while he talked. Rudinoff did smoke pics and whistled 
fa la Bert Levy). 

Columnists were booked in vaude and pic houses. Someone once 
said that they were "middle men" between celebs and the public, 
shrugged at by performers, and booked on the basis of their getting 
top talent to appear with them for free. It got so the actors carried 
their music around with them because they never knew when 
they'd get a call from a columnist to appear. Most of the columnists 
acted as M.C.s for the show. It was Mark Hellinger who started 
the stage-door parade of columnists! Many of them proved very 
good drawing cards, mostly because they could put on a show of 
great headliners that the management could never afford to play 
or pay, whereas the columnists paid them off with "column men- 
tions/' It worked all the way around. The columnist got publicity 
for his column and his paper (and of course plenty dough ), the 
actors got publicity, the manager did good biz for small dough, and 
the audiences saw good shows! 

And so the boys followed Mark Hellinger's lead: Walter Win- 
chell, Ed Sullivan, Nick Kenny, Louis Sobol, Rian James, Hy 
Gardner, Danton Walker, Earl Wilson, Walter Kiernan, Paul 
Yawitz, Ted Friend, Jerry Wald (now a big Hollywood producer) , 
Heywood Broun, Floyd Gibbons, and Alec Woollcott, who took a 
flyer in legit. There were a few more that later parlayed a by-line 
into big billing and dough in vaude, radio, and even pics, like Bob 
Considine, John Kieran, F. P. Adams, Clifton Fadirnan, Goodman 
Ace, Mary Margaret McBride, Harriet Van Horn, Dorothy Kil- 
gallen, H. V. Kaltenborn (who left the Brooklyn Eagle for radio ), 
and H. I. Phillips, who was M.C. on the Robert Burns program 
before Burns & Allen took over. 

We also have a few cases of actors turning columnists. Of course 

Lefty s Letters 2U 

the top example is Walter Winchell, who exchanged his dancing 
shoes for a very talented typewriter, Hedda Hopper, and of course 
the immortal Will Rogers. (Some actors wrote columns, but most 
of them were ghostwritten by press agents.) 

So you see, today grease paint and printer's ink mix pretty well. 
At the Lambs you can see the comradeship enjoyed by actors, 
critics, news columnists, press agents, newspapermen, and cartoon- 
ists, all Brother Lambs! And if you look real close, you may even 
see the actor pay for the drinks, but you'll have to look red close\ 

Your pal, 


Freak and 

Dear Joe, 

The struggle for novelty brought out some very odd acts, and the 
manager's struggle to get box-office attractions brought out the 
4 <freak act"! 

Willie Hammerstein was the daddy of the freak act. He would 
take anybody who was "news" and make 'em box-office through 
build-up and publicity. Freak acts were paid big dough, but lasted 
only a short time; a full season was an exception. Usually a few 
weeks were enough to blur the newspaper headlines that had made 
the act worth putting on the stage. But there certainly was a mess 
of 'em in vaude at one time. 

The "odd acts" were different than freak acts, and some of them 
played in vaude for many seasons. The odd acts were unorthodox 
in style and presentation for instance, there were the Australian 
Woodchoppers (who were champs of Canada too). They had big 
logs on the stage and would chop them up as fast as Max of the 
Stage Door Delicatessen could slice corned beef. Whfcn playing 
fairs, the boys would sell axes on the side and demonstrate how 


good the axes were, never tipping off that they were wood-chopping 
champs. The yokels bought the axes, but when they tried 'em on 
their trees at home they found they didn't chop as easy as the boys 
made it look. 

Charles Kellog was a handsome man, over six feet, who opened 
in a wood scene and announced he would give imitations of bird 
calls, but unlike the regular acts that did this, he didn't whistle- 
he sang them! Without opening his mouth he would sing (?) bird 
calls. (The Great Lester, a vent, whistled with a handkerchief 
stuffed in his mouth as he walked down through the audience.) 
Anyway, Kellog got away with it for many years as a headline attrac- 
tion. He also showed woodcraft, like how to build a fire by rubbing 
two pieces of w T ood together. Interesting act, done by a fine show- 

The Lutz Bros, were sort of a half-odd and half-freak act. They 
were both armless, but performed wonders with their feet! They 
put a motor together, did sharpshooting, writing, etc. Armless 
wonders had worked in museums for many years, but the Lutz 
Bros., with their good showmanship, put it over in vaude as a 
regular hunk of entertainment instead of looking "freaky." Work- 
ing on a stage with proper lighting, etc. (instead of working on a 
bare platform), helped sell the act too. 

Louis Ducasse & George Jeannoit, a couple of Frenchmen, had 
an act called "La Savette," which I guess means boxing. They gave 
an exhibition of fighting with their hands and feet. (New at the 
time for the U. S.) They got a lot of publicity with the old gag, 
"Can an American fighter using his fists beat a Frenchman using 
his feet?" By the time they found out, the boys were back in 
France with plenty francs I 

Monzello was a minstrel show with dummies on the stage and 
the gags done via phonograph. Kinda crude but a novelty. There 
was another act something like this one called "The Automatic 
Minstrels," which played at Gane's Manhattan Theatre (where 
Macy's is now). This one had a live interlocutor; the rest were 
dummies, whose jokes and songs were done via phonographs. 
Didn't do so good. 

Willard, "The Man Who Grows/' would come on stage, get a 
committee from the audience, and stand next to them while asking 
a lot of questions. He looked about as tall as the men he was talk- 
ing to. Then they would stand aside and he would show the folks 

Lefty's Letters 216 

how he grew almost a foot. (They didn't notice the drop coming 
down little by little maybe a half inch at a time, as he was growing 
up; it helped the illusion a lot, but the guy did make himself 
taller.) He did a lot of flash advertising and was a good freak head- 
liner for a number of years. I guess he quit the business when 
Adler's elevator shoes came in. 

Back in 1907 the National Theatre in Frisco played a man by the 
name of L, B. Hicks who got a lot of publicity because he had 
been entombed in a mine at Bakersfield, California. He was sup- 
posed to get $2,000 for the week. Some actor came out with him 
and told the story for him. Then people started to ask questions 
and the guy got stage fright and couldn't answer, and he kinda got 
mixed up with his chew tobacco and went back to the mines! 

Did you know that as late as 1908 there was a freak show showing 
a cow with human skin, a mule "that he-hawed on cue" and a 
hairless horse for a lo-cent admish and it was right on Broadway 
and Forty-second Street, New York (supposed to be a pretty "wise- 
guy" spot in those days). 

In a man and woman talking act, Fox & Fox, he did an Irish 
comic, and talked all through the act while standing on his handsl 
Marcel & Rene Philippart were the world's champs of the diabolo 
(a spinning bobbin) and tried to make it a craze (like the later 
yo-yo), but it didn't catch on. They really did remarkable tricks 
with it. Alier Norton did a sort of a chemical act, producing rubies 
and sapphires in full view of the audience (really a magic act dis- 
guised as a scientific experiment). Luigi Marabin, who was an ice 
sculptor, chopped away at a large cake of ice and made a bust of a 
prominent man. Very clever. (You now see a lot of those things in 
restaurant windows.) 

Marcello was the first one I ever saw drape odds and ends of 
material and ribbons on a live gal and make beautiful dresses right 
before your eyes. The finish, of course, was a wedding gown. Very 
novel, then. Willie Hoppe, a champ at eighteen, gave a billiard 
exhibition on a table surrounded by mirrors so that the audience 
saw every shot. Howard & Heck, two midgets, did the "Kugelwalker 
Twins," one on the shoulders of the other with a long coat cover- 
ing them, which made it look like one guy a very funny act. 

Burr Mclntosh, who was a very well-known legit actor, did a 
lecture on the Merchant Marine in 1909, a sort of recruiting and 
publicity idea, which he illustrated with slides. At the finish he 


would say, "Will those in favor of the Merchant Marine get up 
and sing the 'Star Spangled Banner'?" Of course everybody stood 
up when it was played. He was a natural, and a good showman. 

There were only a couple of fencing acts in show biz. Carstans & 
Brosins were one of them, and I can't recall the name of the other. 
Vaude had never seen this style act. It was a novelty, but the audi- 
ence would rather see boxing. A very different sort of act was done 
by Mme. Ann Diss DeBar, who did a lecture on "Right Thinking 
Is Right Living/' She didn't last long. I guess nobody wanted to 
live right if they had to think. Hap Handy & Co. manipulated soap 
bubbles, juggled 'em, bounced T em around all over the place, and 
put colors in them which made beautiful designs. (This was long 
before the song 4 Tm Forever Blowing Bubbles.") 

Dr. Carl L. Perip, who at Hammerstein's (where else?), read 
palms and told you your destiny at long distance, gave out a 
"lucky bean' 7 which you held up and he read your palm right from 
the stage and also answered questions. (Good eyesight, eh?) A man 
billed "Thermos" did air experiments. He froze rubber, quicksilver, 
and raw steak, fried eggs on ice, and finally produced a concentrated 
snow. (That was in 1911.) Jack Irwin, who was the wireless opera- 
tor on the Wellman, received the CBQ (then the SOS signal) 
from the steamship Republic and saved the ship. He told about it 
in a short monologue. Jack Binns, the Marconi operator on the 
Republic., also did a few weeks of vaude. 

Dr. Cook, who claimed that he and not Admiral Peary dis- 
covered the North Pole and who received reams of publicity, deco- 
rations, etc., did a talk about it at Hammerstein's. The big laugh 
was when he complained to Mike Simon, the stage manager, that 
his dressing room was cold! The Spook Minstrels were a minstrel 
show on film with regular actors behind the screen doing the jokes 
and songs. At the finish, the curtain went up and the audience saw 
the live actors. (This was long "before the talking pics.) Mrs. Dr. 
Munyon (the wife of the famous doctor who advertised that he 
cured everything that Lydia Pinkham didn't) was the attraction at 
Hammerstein's during Christmas week of 1910. She cured every- 
body that week including herself; she quit show biz when the week 
was overl 

Rillow billed himself as a "menaphone novelty," but nobody 
knew what it meant until they saw that he made musical noises on 
his teeth, cheeks, head, etc. It was something like playing "the 

Lefty's Letters 21& 

bones/' Tarzan was a man dressed like an ape (I can't recall his 
name, but he was a great artist) . He worked with a trainer, did 
the regular ape "tricks," and never took his make-up off. It left the 
audience puzzled, some saying it was a man and some believing it 
was an ape (that's how good he was). Later he went over the 
circuit, running through the aisles and over seats, scaring the audi- 
ence (they liked to be scared), and at the finish took off the mask. 
There was an Englishman by the name of Nathal who was the best 
of all the animal imitators, 

Harry Kahane wrote upside down, frontwards, or backwards 
anything you would call from the audience, while concentrating on 
a newspaper article. A remarkable performance. Sessukikima also 
did this act years before Harry, but in this type act it is so tough 
to do that they all deserve credit. Charlie Chase, who played every- 
thing from the Gus Sun to the Palace and Ziegfeld Follies, ate 
paper, electric bulbs, flowers, wood, matches, etc., and also did a 
very funny dance. A novel act. 

George Schroeder was billed on Pantages Circuit as "Convict 
6630, the man who sang himself out of the penitentiary/' He was 
a former forger (this shows how hard up the managers were for 
headlines). That same year (1913) Pantages also played Ed 
Morrell, who was the youngest member of the famous Evans- 
Sontag gang of outlaws in California; he served sixteen years, was 
pardoned, and got a contract from Pantages. A few years later, 
McVicker's, Chicago (the Hammerstein's of the West), played 
Barney Bertsche, a swindler, who chirped about the cops that stood 
in with him in a fortune-swindling racket. He got $700 for the 
week. (Another swindle.) Even Bugs Baer, the great of the humor- 
ists, wrote a skit for James J. Curran, a confidence man with a long 
prison route. 

But the tops of "prison talent' 7 was a guy called Snodgrass, who 
was in on a rap for accomplice to murder, broadcasting from the 
penitentiary at Jefferson City, Missouri. He got carloads of gifts 
and letters. He couldn't read a note, but his rendition of "Three 
O'Clock in the Morning" was really a masterpiece. Through his 
popularity via the radio, he got a pardon and reinstated citizenship, 
and also got on the Orpheum Route (they never played freak acts) 
for $1,000 a week. He was assisted by an announcer from WOS r 
and he did very well. The booking of "behind the bars" talent got 
so bad that E. F. Albee issued a letter that "criminal proceedings, 


publicity headlines" were out for the future as vaude headliners. 
(But they played them just the same if they figured to clink at 
the box office.) 

McNaughton, "The Human Tank," did an act where he swal- 
lowed live frogs and other things and emitted them alive. He was 
stopped by the ASPCA, claiming cruelty to animals (and to audi- 
ences) . Another smart (?) booking was a freak act that was playing 
at Coney Island and some booker thought it would be a novelty 
for vaude. The guy's name was Hadji Ali, and he swallowed hickory 
nuts, then drank water, then swallowed more hickory nuts, then 
more water, then more hickory nuts and water. Then in front of 
the audience he would eject the hickory nuts, followed by water, 
then Oh, Nuts! (We saw him.) A fine act for family audiences! 
And yet he lasted four weeks before they got wise that he was 
killing their supper shows. He never played Big Time or Hammer- 
stein's (Willie had too much good taste for that one). I only 
mentioned these two acts to show you how far a manager would 
go for an attraction. 

Sidney Franklin is the only American who has become a top- 
notch bullfighter or what they call a toreador. Naturally the vaude 
audiences were proud to see a guy, especially from Brooklyn, who 
could go to Spain and beat 'em at their own racket. Of course the 
audience knew as much about bullfighting as about Einstein's 
Theory, but they applauded the guy loud and long (for his show- 
manship) . The Five Gaffney Girls did an act with each girl dressed 
half boy and half girl; they looked like they were dancing with a 
guy. A very novel act. (This was long before those Danish renovat- 
ing jobs.) Vasco, "The Mad Musician" (an Englishman), played 
twenty-eight instruments at every performance (a great act). Me 
and Aggie d'dn't know if he played 'em well, but we gave credit to 
the guy for even picking 'em up I We saw a gal by the name of 
Fuj : -Ko, a Jap mimic who did an imitation of Harry Lauder "as 
seen through Jap eyes"; well sir, you know Jap eyes are slanted, 
but we never knew they slanted that much. A Jap trying to do a 
Scotchman, when even a Scotchman couldn't do a Scotchman! 
Swain's Cats and Rats had cats actually working with rats. (I guess 
they fed the cats before the act went on.) 

A very odd act was the Hakoah, champ Jewish soccer team. 
They made a tour of the vaude theaters in the larger cities. Edna 
Wallace Hopper gave a special matinee for women at Pittsburgh, 

Lefty's Letters 220 

Pennsylvania. She gave them a spiel on how to keep young etc. 
She took a bath in front of the lady audience. Four college boys 
got in dressed as dames and were spotted; they claimed it was a 
press stunt (which no doubt it was). 

Jack Johnson, the world champion heavyweight, did an act at 
the Pekin, Chicago, but stopped showing pics of the funeral of his 
wife, Etta Duryea (white), who committed suicide. He thought 
the public would think he was cashing in on her publicity. 

In 1912 Hammerstein's ran a Women's Suffragette Week. 
Speeches outside, no customers inside. Fola La Follette (daughter 
of the famous senator from Wisconsin) spoke fifteen minutes on 
women's rights, while, one hundred women in white dresses stood 
on the stage. One carried a baby (to make it look harder, I guess) . 
They sold buttons and flowers to the audience for "the cause/' 
There was a big laugh when George May (the orchestra leader) 
played "Battle Cry of Freedom" for their entrance. The week, 
from a money standpoint, was a fliv, but it got plenty of publicity 
for Hammerstein's and the Suffs, and besides Willie got 'em for 

Another freak act was Rev. Frank Gorman, pastor of the Congre- 
gational Church of Portland, Oregon, who sang a ballad, told 
stories, and finished with a baseball poem. Said he was out for 
money the same as Billy Sunday. (He certainly didn't get it in 
vaude.) In 1922 there was a Dr. W. B. Thompson, who claimed to 
cure deafness, baldness, bad eyesight, etc., by the patient's just 
putting his fingertips together, touching fingernails. He caused 
quite a stir for a while, like Dr. Coue did with his "Every day in 
every way I'm getting better and better" -but Dr. Coue was smart; 
he didn't go into vaude. Anyway, this Dr. Thompson must have 
talked to guys with no fingernails, because he wasn't booked for 
very long. 

Here is a pip. In 1910 we saw Mrs. LaSalle Corbell Pickett, a 
charming Southern lady, the widow of the famous General Pickett 
of the Confederate Army, do an act consisting of a poem, "Pickett's 
Charge," and of all the places to book her, they picked the Colonial 
Theatre, New York. All the boys from South Ferry, South Brook- 
lyn, and South Street applauded as she retreated south of the 
Mason-Dixon line after a week. I'll bet she said, "Vaudeville was 
damyankee propaganda!" How could an intelligent, charming 


Southern lady figure a thing like that would go in vaude? I don't 
blame her; I blame the lousy agent who talked her into it! 

In 1917 there was an act called "The Shrapnel Dodgers"; they 
told about their experiences in the war and sang. One had only 
one eye, the other had a leg and arm off. They were Canadians. 
They did a real good act, and certainly didn't depend on sympathy, 
but when they finished there wasn't a dry eye in the house. 

There were many freak acts in vaude in spite of the trade papers 
claiming that 1917 saw the end of them. Bubbles Wilson, who got 
so much publicity with Frank Tinney, got a date at the Bowdoin 
Square Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts, to do a dance act for $600 
a week. Patricia Salmon was discovered with a tent show at Shelby, 
Montana, by Heywood Broun and other sports writers who were 
there to cover the Dempsey-Gibbons fight, and they gave her more 
publicity than the fight got. The result was that she came East to 
go into vaude and the Ziegfeld Follies and finally went back to 
the tent show she was with when originally discovered. She was a 
swell gal who couldn't take New York, and vice versa. Then there 
was Peaches Browning, the Cinderella Girl who married the multi- 
millionaire eccentric real-estate man. She was the first to play a 
route for RKO on percentage (Keith Circuit never liked to play 
actors on percentage, and didn't. Peaches did it through her very 
able manager, Marvin Welt. She did very well as a drawing card. 
She sang a song in her act, "I'm All Alone in a Palace of Stone" 
(* la "Bird in a Gilded Cage"). 

Then came a flock of Atlantic flyers. Ruth Elder was the first 
woman to do it, and was immediately offered $6,500 for one week 
for Loew, but took twenty-five weeks at $5,000 instead. Then there 
was a rush of Atlantic flyers, replacing the Channel swimmers. 
Lindbergh turned down fabulous offers (see my letters on salaries) . 
The Channel swimmers who cashed in were Gertrude Ederle and 
Mrs. Mille Gade Corson. (Eleanor Holm made more than both 
of ? em and hardly swam a stroke.) 

Then there was Aimee Semple McPherson, the Hollywood 
evangelist, who laid a big egg at the Capitol Theatre, New York, 
at $5,000 for the week. Bob Landry, then on Variety, reviewing the 
act, said, "She wears a white satin creation, sexy but Episcopalian!" 
The house lost $20,000 on the week. When me and Aggie played 
with her mother, "Ma" Kennedy, and Ma's husband, "What a 
Man" Hudson, in Los Angeles, she laid an even bigger egg (but not 

Lefty's Letters 222 

at that price) ; she fust quit after one week of vaude. But "What a 
Man" stuck it out for two more weeks to prove what a man he was! 

A few years later Jafsie Condon (cashing in on his publicity as 
one of the important witnesses in the Lindbergh case) played at the 
Capitol Theatre at Lynn, Massachusetts. In between shows he 
appeared for one hour in Kane's Furniture Company store window 
to demonstrate the model of the ladder, nails, chisels, etc., used at 
the trial. 

"Prince" Mike Romanoff (now a very reputable restaurateur in 
one of Hollywood's finest restaurants) appeared at the Palace, New 
York (when the Palace had stopped playing the blue bloods of 
vaude, and was playing freak acts, which they had never done be- 
fore) . It was a time when the motto was, "Anything to ring the cash 
register." The "Prince" was really a great character; too bad he 
came too late for Willie Hammerstein, because between them, 
with their great showmanship, the "Prince" would have mounted 
the throne! 

In 1924 there appeared at Proctor's Twenty-third Street Theatre 
a really swell freak act by the name of Miss Bird Reeves. She was 
sixteen years old, and a champ typist. She did twenty strokes a 
second and 500 words a minute. Read a newspaper while typing 
other things being dictated to her. Had a terrific memory she 
would ask for the name of a prominent man and would type and 
recite an excerpt from one of his speeches. She passed the copy to 
the audience, and it was neat and clean. She answered questions 
and exchanged wisecracks with the audience and was very good at 
it. She typed one speech while reciting an entirely different one. 
She put a piece of tin in the machine and gave imitations of a 
drum and a train. She didn't get very far in vaude, although every- 
body said she had a great act. We often wondered what happened 
to her. Too bad Willie Hammerstein was gone; he would have 
made her a headlinerl This is one of the freak acts that really had 
it Maybe she found out she was too smart for vaude and became 
a secretary! 

Another odd act was Cantor Joseph Rosenblatt, a little man 
with a long red beard. He opened at the Fox Theatre, Philadelphia, 
as an experiment; he was the first cantor in vaude (outside of 
Eddie). William Morris didn't know if the Jews would resent it, 
or the gentiles wouldn't go for it; it was a "touchy" booking. He 
was not only a big hit but a terrific box-office draw. (There have 


been great applause hits that couldn't draw a dime to the till, and 
on the other hand there were acts that didn't get a hand, but would 
draw 'em in.) Anyway, for an encore Cantor Rosenblatt sang 
"Mother Machree," which made his applause "unanimous"! He 
lasted a few years in vaude. 

Jack Connelly (who for years was the piano player at Keith's, 
Boston) and Marguerite Webb did an act called "The Stormy 
Finish" in which he played the piano with bananas and lemons, 
and at the finish he described a tornado while playing, and every- 
thing on the stage flew off! 

We loved Scictler's Manikins; he had a juggler, three hobos, and 
an ostrich which laid an egg and a snake hatched out of it. One of 
the manikins made a quick change on the stage from a man into a 
woman. (At that time a thing like that was odd but since then 
we have progressed.) 

Right now, Joe, I feel I am repeating to you about many acts. 
Forgive me. You may find the same info in several letters because 
so many acts belong in so many categories, and the same memories 
come up each time. 

Charlie Matthews, who was England's long-distance jumping 
champ, leaped from a table over an upright piano. (O. G. Seymour 
did the same trick many years before him. He jumped over an 
upright piano with a short start.) 

Morris & Allen, dressed in Scotch kilts, with a Hebe make-up, 
sang an Irish song before making their entrance a very big novelty. 
George Dixon did a musical act and used a skeleton for a xylophone. 
Fve never seen it done since, but I bet I will. 

Eddie Mack described a whole baseball game while he danced. 
Crane Bros., "The Mudtown Minstrels," were the first three-man 
minstrel act. 

The Four Mignanis, "Musical Barbers," played all of the stuff in 
a barbershop: razors, strops, bottles, etc. Ben Meyer, billed as the 
"Human Elevator," lifted a man with his teeth and walked up a 
ladder with him. Contino & Lawrence were the original upside- 
down dancers; that was in 1906. A few acts copied them later. Toy 
& Toy played all the toys on the Christmas tree. "Dates" was the 
act of a memory wizard; when you'd call out any historical event, 
he would tell you the date it happened. I know the guy was on the 
level, because I hollered out, "When was Lincoln born?" and he 
told me the right answer. Zeno, Jordan & Zeno did thirty-five con- 

Lefty's Letters 224 

secutive somersaults in a bounding net. I tried it once and couldn't 
get out of the net, let alone turn over. (It looks so easy.) The 
Mozarts were the first and only snowshoe dancers we have ever 
seen. Canard was a contortionist who worked on the dial of a clock. 
Annie May Abbott, "The Georgia Magnet," was one of the first to 
do the act where nobody could lift her off the stage. Sam Rowley 
(an Australian) was the first we ever heard who talked with a 
whistle every time he came to the letter s. (Yop, it's been copped 
many times since.) 

Dr. Herrmann called himself the "Electrical Wizard." There 
were many acts of this kind, with a lot of important looking para- 
phernalia on stage, and when they turned on the juice, it would 
give out tremendous sparks, etc. The "professor" would tell you 
how many thousand volts his machinery produced. Then he would 
sit in an electric chair and they would send 100,000 volts (that's 
what the man said) through him! I recall one incident at Keith's 
in Philadelphia. The stagehands didn't like anyone to stand in the 
first entrance, so they rigged up a comfortable-looking chair and 
connected it with a five-volt battery; when you sat down you made 
a contact, and you'd keep out of the entrance from then on. One 
day after Dr. Herrmann finished his act, where he claimed 100,000 
volts shot through his body with not even a twitch from him, he 
sat down on the chair in the first entrance, and you never saw a 
guy Jump so high or yell so loud! 

In 1909 we saw a troupe called Mile. Toona's Indian Novelty 
Co. They did an operatic act (I believe the first and only operatic 
Indians that were ever in or out of vaude) . Kennedy, Nobody & 
Platt, had a novel idea in a two-man talking act. "Nobody" was 
an imaginary person that Kennedy & Platt would talk to as if he 
were part of the act. Later Kennedy did the act with just "Nobody." 
In the late '205 there was Thelma De Onzo, world's greatest 
candlestick jumper; she had lighted candles on tables of different 
heights and put them out as she jumped over them. (Some actor, 
seeing the act at Hammerstein's, remarked, "What a finish for a 
Pontifical Mass!" Anything for a laugh.) 

Robert Stickney danced on stilts. Will Mahoney did a dance on 
a huge xylophone with the hammers strapped to his shoes (great) . 

In 1923 Freddie Thomson was acquitted of the Tessmer murder. 
The "Man-Woman" appeared at Linnicfc and Schafer's Rialto 
Theatre, Chicago, for $500 a week. It came out at his trial that he 


led a double life as wife of a man and husband of a girl. Drew 
the jurors' sympathy through his helplessness. The act was stopped 
by police. 

In 1811 the original Siamese Twins were bom to Chinese parents 
in Siam; they were discovered by an English merchant and when 
in their teens were brought to Boston, where P. T. Barnum snapped 
T em up for his side show. In 1925 the Big Time refused to play 
another pair of Siamese twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton. Loew 
booked them at $2,500 a week and they broke all house records 
for him throughout the Circuit! Loew also booked a freak head- 
liner in the person of Miss Elinor Glyn, the famous author of 
Three Weeks. She did very big. 

Here is a pip! In 192-7 an Egyptian showed his act to the bookers 
at the Palace. He called it "The Crucifixion." He put needle-point 
spikes through the palms of his hands and there was no blood. 
There also was no booking. 

In 1913 Rev. Alexander Irvine & Co. played a sketch, "The 
Rector of St. Jude's." He was an excommunicated minister. There 
were two "hells" and one "damn/' in the act. It was sort of socialis- 
tic propaganda. One wag said, "Hammerstein should book a priest 
next week just to show no favoritism." 

The greatest of all the odd and interesting acts we have ever seen 
or worked with was Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind. We 
spoke to her like you would speak to anybody, and she touched 
our lips with her hand to "hear" us. Miss Sullivan, the great lady 
who taught her, was her constant companion. Miss Keller's act was 
a great lesson in courage, faith, and patience to everyone in the 
audience and to everybody backstage. She headlined in vaudeville 
for a number of years. A great lady. 

There were a good many more freaks and odd acts, but I'll tell 
you about them when I tell you about the Hammersteins. SEZ 

Your pal,, 


Lefty's Letters 22S 

Dear Joe, 

The comedy man and woman talking act that worked "in one" 
(the first drop behind the proscenium) was one of the important 
factors in starting vaude on its golden journey. It broke up the 
monotony of seeing mostly men on variety shows and also brought 
some class and cleaning up of material. The pioneer man and 
woman acts (or "mixed acts" as Variety named them) consisted 
of the man doing the comedy, tumbling, dancing, and maybe even 
a bit of juggling, while the woman (usually as a soubrette) did 
"straight" and contributed a song and dance and good looks. 

The following billing in the program of May 7, 1893, of the 
Elite Theatre, 607 California Street, San Francisco, California, 
will give you an idea of the average type of man and woman act 
of that time. 


Mr. Byrnes is America's greatest essence dancer while Miss 
Helene is the best wench dancer in existence. In their side- 
splitting plantation act entitled "Rescued/ 7 introducing essence 
dancing, double songs, and flashes of wit. 

And here's another one from the London Theatre, New York, 
program dated October 28, 1889. 

The performance begins with the eccentric character comedian 


And the talented actress and vocalist 


In their own original act, entitled "Pleasant Dreams/' intro- 
ducing Violin and Banjo accompaniment, bone and whisk- 
broom solos, comedy and tragedy sandwiched into "One 
Night's Rest" 

No matter what they say about the "old days" in variety, you 

can't say that the managers were stingy with their billing of an act! 

I don't want to dig way back to the early '705 and ? 8os, but I 


think it's the best way to give you examples of what the mked acts 
used to do, so you may see what a change took place in this type of 

Miss Beane of Fanny Beane & Charles Gilday was the greatest 
song-and-dance woman of the early 'yos. She danced with a fan, 
not like Sally Rand, but a small fan held in one hand to accentuate 
style and grace. Charlie Gilday, her partner, did the comedy. Sam 
& Carrie Swain d'd a blackface song, dance, and comedy act. Carrie 
Swain was the only woman at that time to do back and forward 
somersaults while dancing. In the act of Dolph & Susie Lavino, 
Dolph did comedy and crayon drawings while Susie sang. John & 
Maggie Fielding did Irish acts "in one" with songs, and Maggie did 
"straight." Jap & Fanny Delano did acrobatic song and dance and 
comedy talk; they were one of the better known mked acts of that 
day. In the Two Jacksons, he did comedy while she punched the 
bag and they finished the act with what the program billed as 
"a refined set-to" (boxing) . Richmond & Glenroy, Hallen & Hart, 
Morton & Revell, Jim & Bonnie Thornton, and Dick & Alice 
McAvoy were all standard acts,, and there wasn't one "funny'* 
woman among them! 

It was in the late '905 that the comics began replacing their 
straight man with a woman foil. Most of the ladies were picked 
for their beauty and their ability to wear clothes, the man figuring 
he could take care of the comedy. This added class to the act and 
contrast to the heavily made-up and baggy-pants comic. He gave 
her a few lines to speak and maybe let her do a song or dance, but 
the burden of carrying the act was on the man's shoulders. The 
majority of the mixed acts were married couples; they didn't have 
to split salaries like the two-man acts, and so could afford to take 
many dates at "a cut" that the other team acts couldn't take. It 
was almost as cheap to live double in the old days as it was single. 
And all the money went into one grouch bag (the wife's). (A 
grouch bag was a chamois bag, usually worn around the neck, 
where the family jewels and money, if any, were placed called 
grouch bag because when empty, one, and even two, would get 
grouchy.) Nonworkirig wives who traveled with their husbands 
were called "excess baggage," so many men stuck the wife in the 
act to do a bit to sort of let her earn her keep. Sometimes it bet- 
tered the act; sometimes it didn't. They would only ask for a slight 
raise (to cover fares, etc.), so the price was right for the bookers 

Lefty's Letters 228 

and that had a great deal to do with the flood of man and woman 
acts in the early 1900$. Some of the gals became real great 
"straights'* and fine performers. 

"Funny women" were at a premium. Vaude was making big 
strides and there was keen competition. Man and woman acts "in 
one" (especially comedy) were in great demand. The male patrons 
came to get some laughs and look at the beautiful women and the 
lady patrons came to see the latest styles in clothes and hair-dos. 
The comics were trying to develop their female partners into 
comediennes; it meant getting away from the regular stereotype 
of mixed acts. At first they would let the partner get a few laughs 
in the act, then maybe next season the lady got 50 per cent of the 
laughs (alternating funny answers) . In this way some of the women 
(very few) developed into excellent comediennes. In many cases, 
where they were real funny, the comic would turn straight man 
and let the woman get all the laughs, (It hurt his pride plenty, but 
it was good business.) Sometimes the comic would turn to a 
"light-comic" straight, getting some laughs, but giving the boffolas 
to the woman. Laurie & Bronson, Ryan & Lee, Donahue & Stewart, 
and Burns & Allen all started with the man doing the comedy and 
later turning to light-comedian straights. 

The early funny women would wear funny make-ups and funny 
clothes. Some mixed acts would both dress funny. Melville & Hig- 
gins (a very funny team) was an example of that type act. Little by 
little they began to use regular clothes and soon there were very 
few women doing comedy in funny clothes or doing "low" comedy. 

In the 19005 Wilbur Mack & Nella Walker started a new craze, 
called the "bench act," for man and woman acts. They would have 
a bench on the stage where they would sit and do "flirtation stuff/' 
and finish up with a neat song and dance, during which they would 
exchange wisecracks. It was Mack & Walker who brought the 
"class/' natural talk, and street make-up to vaude. Miss Walker 
possessed great beauty and talent, while Wilbur Mack was a fine 
light comedian with plenty of class. They were copied by many, but 
were never caught up with as to class and fine material. They started 
a trend that led to making "funny women" without using funny 

Later Ryan & Lee and Laurie & Bronson brought a new type of 
mixed act to vaude the "dumb girl" type comedienne and the 
smart-cracking straight man, depending on cross-fire "seini-nut" 


comedy, using a song-and-dance finish. Bums & Allen, Block & 
Sully, Allan & Canfield, and Dooley & Sales came later. fDooley & 
Sales were a team In show biz much longer than the others, but for 
years Jim Dooley did the comedy. When the tiend changed, he 
turned all the laughs over to Corinne Sales, and she did plenty 

There were many types of mixed acts working in one. Some did 
singing or musical acts with a little comedy talk between selections. 
Others depended on their dancing, but used a "flirtation" routine 
as an opening, and went into their dance for the "sock finish. 
But most of the mixed acts tried to put <f talk" in the act and to 
make the woman the "funny" one of the act. Some of 'em made it, 
but most of T em didn't! 

There were a number of mixed acts that did "skits" in one. They 
practically used a plot, also using a song or dance. These acts could 
fit on more bills than the regular sketches that used full stage. 
Among the best examples of this type skit were McMahon & 
Chappie, Mr. & Mrs. Jimmy Barry, Mclaughlin & Evans, Billy 
Wayne & Ruth Warren, and Jim & Sadie Leonard. 

But the "funny women" were still in demand, and it wasn't long 
before they came along. All you needed in vaude was a demand, 
and it was supplied (like in any other biz). Marie Stoddard 
(Gardner & Stoddard), Florence Moore (Montgomery & Moore), 
Fanny Stedman (Al & Fanny Stedman), Marie Hartman (Hibbit 
& Hartman) , Emily Darrell (Tower & Darrell) , Harriett Lee (Ryan 
& Lee), Aleen Bronson (Laurie & Bronson) 7 Gracie Allen (Burns & 
Allen), Marion Cleveland (Claude & Marion Cleveland), Irene 
Rieardo (Cooper & Ricardo), Lulu McConell (McConell & Simp- 
sonwho really did a sketch but she was a real funny woman), 
Gracie Deagon (Dickerson & Deagon), Alice Stewart (Donahue & 
Stewart), Corinne Sales (Dooley & Sales), Eva Sully (Block & 
Sully), May Usher (Ben Rubin & May Usher), Annie Kent (Kelly 
& Kent), Rose King (York & King) , Helen Broderick (Crawford & 
Broderick), Charlotte Greenwood (Sydney Grant & Charlotte 
Greenwood) , Edna Leedom (Harry Tighe & Edna Leedom) , Stella 
Mayhew (Mayhew & Taylor), Elsie Canfield (Allan & Canfield), 
Flo Lewis (Gould & Lewis), Blanche Leighton (Jim Kelso & 
Leighton really did a skit, but she was one of the best stage 
"drunks" ever seen), Ann Codee (Frank Orth & Codee), Maude 
Ryan (Innes & Ryan she was the best ad-libber among all the 

Lefty's Letters 230 

women comics), Irene Noblette (Ryan and Noblette), Patsy Kelly 
(Kelly & Wood), Ina Williams (Keene & Williams), and Sara 
Carson (McLellan & Carson), were just some of the real funny 

The comedy mixed teams where the woman did the "straight" 
outnumbered the other type of mixed acts. The great comedy acts 
that corne to mind are Brendel & Hurt, Bonita & Lew Hearn, Lester 
Allen & Nellie Breen, Anger & Parker, Bam- & Wolford, Brown & 
Whittaker, John & Mae Burke, Bozzell & Parker, Bevan & Flint, 
Conlin & Glass, Eddie & Bertie Conrad, Clifford & Marion, Clark 
& Hamilton, Billy Gaxton & Ann Latighlin (did a bench act way 
back in 1915), Sam Hearn & Helen Eil, Gladys Clark & Henry 
Bergman, Johnny Stanley & Stella Tracy, Raymond & O'Connor, 
Skeets Gallagher & Irene Martin, Jack Haley & Flo McFadden, 
Jim & Marion Harkins, Bert & Betty Wheeler, Bert Lahr & Mer- 
cedes, Toney & Norman, Harry Fox & Beatrice Curtis, Bill Frawley 
& Edna Louise, Harry Lang & Bernice Haley, Joe E. Brown & 
Marion Sunshine, Fred Leightner & Rosella McQueen, Queenie 
Williams & Jere Delaney, Jack Norton & Lucille Haley, Louise 
Groody & Hal Skelly, Russ Brown & Aileen Cook, Inglis & Reading, 
Si Wills & Joan Davis, Ken Murray & Charlotte. Fred Allen & 
Portland Hoffa and Jack Benny & Mary Livingston really didn't do 
a "mixed act," but just used the gals for foils in bits, and were 
plenty good. Then there were Montrose & Allen (talented parents 
of the talented Steve Allen), Ben & Hazel Mann, Davis & Darnell, 
Sid Marion & Marion Ford, Tom & Stacie Moore, Lola Merrill & 
Frank Otto, Newhoff & Phelps, Sully & Houghton, Johnny NeS & 
Carrie Starr, Bert Gordon & Gene Ford, Pisano & Bingham, Lou 
Handman & Florrie LaVere, Arthur Stone & Marion Hayes, Burke 
& Durkin, Sully & Thomas, Morris & Campbell, Whiting & Burt, 
Billy Gaston & Ethel Green, and one of the greatest, Williams & 

There were many "kid acts" that were an important part of 
"mixed acts"; Harry & Eva Puck (one of the first real great ones), 
Bud & Nellie Heim, Laurie & Aleen, Felix & Claire, Eddie & Josie 
Evans, Guyer & Goodwin, and two teams that were grown-ups who 
did great kid acts, Rawson & Claire and Sager Midgley & Fanny 
Carlye; the latter were old people and did the greatest kid act in 
show biz. 

Toward the last dying years of vaude, the mixed acts contributed 


a lot with their 4r blue" material or "shock laughs/' "hells/' and 
"damns," to help vaude die! Everybody began to steal each other's 
acts until it seemed that everybody was doing the same act. It did 
a lot to push vaude off the entertainment shelf. 

The writers of vaude acts, who supplied the funny material that 
made a nation laugh, were a very important part of vaude. They 
supplied it for years with the plasma that kept it alive. When all 
the acts started stealing from each other, the writer was helpless. 
The booking office was a lot to blame for booking "copy acts" be- 
cause they were cheaper. They didn't care about the future o 
vaude; it was a case of "get it while you can" with the managers. 
They didn't realize that without the writers vaude would die. Out- 
side of a very few actors who could write their own stuff, talking 
acts depended on writers who could give them material that would 
make them a living. The writers became disgusted and luckily 
walked into other facets of show biz that needed them. They con- 
tributed their talents (for much bigger dough) to the new fields of 
radio and pics great comedy writers like Paul Gerard Smith, Al 
Boasberg, Charles Horowitz, Felix Adler, Harry Conn, Tommy 
Gray, Hockey & Green, Jimmy Conlin, Harry Breen, Benny Ryan, 
Henry Bergman, William Cartmell, Jack Lait, Eddie Clark, Joe 
Browning ? Frank Fay, Joe Laurie, Jr., Will Morrisey, Bert Hanlon, 
Gene Conrad, Junie McCree, Harry C. Green, Ren Shields, Billy 
Jerome, James Madison, Tommy Dugan, Fred Allen, Eddie Cantor, 
Billy K. Wells, Andy Rice, and the tops of ? em all, Aaron Hoffman, 
were disgusted with vaude and quit. 

It is tragic to think that of all the great mixed acts of vaude, the 
only one that has survived through vaude, radio, pics, and TV is 
George Burns & Gracie Allen! They met the challenge and won! 

Again there is a shortage of funny women. There are just a 
few around today, and they are mostly from the vaude school 
Gracie Allen, Martha Raye, Lulu McConell, Pert Kelton, Patsy 
Kelly, Joan Davis, Bea Lillie, and of course Imogene Coca! 

Maybe women need guys to make 7 em funny. Aggie sez "that 
many a woman has made a guy into a clown" . . . but not in 
vaudeville, SEZ 

Your pS^ 


Lefty's Letters 



To break up the monotony of watching singles, doubles, trios 
and quartettes, and maybe sometimes a large troupe of acrobats, 
vaudeville used what was called "big acts" or "girl acts 1 ' for a 
"lash" of bigness on the show. A fifteen-people act, with special 
costumes, scenery, book and lyrics, lighting, and "leader" in the 
pit with white gloves, made a big splash. These were not condensed 
musical comedies, and were produced by men who knew their 
business-men like Joe Hart, Ned Wayburn, Jesse Lasky & B. A. 
Rolfe, Gus Edwards, Charles Maddock, Fred V. Bowers, Harry 
Delmar & Jeannet Hackett, Bart McHugh, McMahon & Chappie, 
Minnie Palmer, William Friedlander, Velaska Suratt, Taylor Gran- 
ville, Herman Timberg, George Choos, Benny Davis, and a few 

Lasky's "Nurses," starring Gladys Clark & Henry Bergman, was 
one of 'the first and best. His "Redheads" starring James Carson, 
"Night on a Houseboat," starring O'Malley Jennings, "The Bride 
Shop," starring Andy Tombs, and many more big musical acts 
were done with B. A. Rolfe, who also produced on his own some 
very fine big acts. 

One of the first big acts was Gus Edwards' "School Boys & 
Girls," starring Herman Timberg, and he followed this with some 
of the best big acts in vaude. His "song reviews" were packed with 
talent and were well done "Kid Kabaret" (starring Eddie Cantor 
and George Jessel), "Band Box Revue" with "Cuddles" (Lila Lee) 
and Georgie Price as stars (and you can bet Georgie and Cuddles 
never appeared in the school act), "Blonde Typewriters/ 7 starring 
Johnny Stanley, and "Carlton Nights," starring Ray Bolger. Ned 
Wayburn, who produced for Ziegfeld, also produced some beauti- 
ful big acts "Daisyland" with Dorothy Jardon (who later left 
vaude for opera) singing "Fedora," and "The Rain-Dears," which 
had a wonderful rain effect. Joe Hart was a prolific producer; his 
"Bathing Girls" was a swell act. Charlie Maddock produced in 
association with Lasky and Rolfe. McMahon & Chappie produced 


"Pullman Porter Maids >? and "Sunflower Girl" Minnie Palmer 
(the mother of the Marx Bros.) produced all their big acts. "Home 
Again" a seventeen-people act written by Al Shean (Gallagher & 
Shean) 7 their uncle, was not only a great comedy act but a fine 
scenic and costumed production. Velaska Suratt in "Bouffe Vari- 
ety" showed the one and only Velaska with gorgeous wardrobe. 
Herman Timbers; did "Chicken Chow Mein" with Jay Gould & Flo 
Lewis (Sophie Tucker was in this one for a while too). Rooney & 
Bent's "Rings of Smoke" was a wonderful act (Vincent Lopez 
played the piano for them). George Choos was a lavish producer; 
his "Battling Butler" was later made into a show. Sam Bernard did 
an act at the Forty-fourth Street Theatre for Hammerstein and Wil- 
liam Morris, when they tried to buck the Palace. It had sixty people 
in it (never traveled). Anatole Friedlander and Benny Davis 
always had fine acts of young talent. Eddie Clark was a pioneer in 
girl acts with his "Six Winning Widows/' a great act. (When they 
played England it was billed as "Eddie Clark & His Merry 
Kiddos." ) Others were "Ray Dooley & Her Metropolitan Minstrels/' 
"Frank Dobson & the Sirens" (which played 150 consecutive 
weeks), and "Rubeville," a Maddock act, which played for six 
consecutive years, except one summer when the cast took a six 
weeks 7 vacation. 

In 1910 William Morris produced "Chanticler" on his American 
Roof. It ran for two hours and a half, hut was really a vaude act 
and featured Mitzi Hajos (later was known as Mitzi). She made 
her debut in this act and was immediately discovered and became a 
great star, Joe Hart's "Eternal Waltz," with thirty people, special 
music, etc., was on the opening bill of the Palace, Doc Baker's 
"flashes" and "song revues" were swell. Gertrude Hoffman had the 
biggest act in vaude way back in 1908; she had thirty musicians 
with her, did about fifteen imitations, ending up with a burlesque 
on Annette Kellerman diving into a tank. "The Love Shop" was a 
rhapsody in velvet, silk, and lace. Will Morrisey & Elizabeth Brice's 
"Overseas Revue" was a condensation of their show. Way back in 
1904 Oscar Hammerstein wrote the book and lyrics and music for 
a big act, "Parsifala," with a cast featuring Eleanor Falk and a 
chorus and ballet of seventy! 

Al Von Tilzer's "Honey Girls," with McBride & Cavanaugh, 
was produced by Arthur Hopkins, The Weaver Bros. & Elviry had 
their big "Hill-Billy Revue/ 7 There were Bart McHugh's "House- 

Lefty's Letters 234 

warmers/' with Johnny Dooley & Yvette Rugel, JesseFs "Troubles 
of 1920," produced by Al Lewis & Max Gordon, Annette Keller- 
man's "Revue" at the palace, with ten scenes; she talked, danced, 
sang, and walked the tight wire besides doing her diving act. "The 
Lawn Part}-/* with Billy Doolev, was produced bv Bart McHusJi; 
he was the Philadelphia Gus Edwards, discovering neighborhood 
talent. Joe Laurie, Jr/s "Memory Lane" had sixteen old-time 
favorites including W. C. Handy, Emma Francis, Al Campbell, 
Dave Genaro, Annie Hart, Rosamond Johnson, Tommy Harris, 
Eddie Horan, Lizzie Wilson, Bill Swan, Harry Brooks, Tom Phil- 
lips, and many more. Of course, Harry Carroll's big acts were always 
tops, with fine music, scenery, and book. Joe, it was in one of Car- 
roll's acts that you met June (now Mrs. Joe Laurie, Jr.). 

The small time couldn't afford these first-class attractions, so 
had to devise something that looked like a big flash for short dough. 
That brought a flock of "flash act" producers. The flash act con- 
sisted of a two-man act (with their own vaude material), a singing 
and dancing soubrette, a prima donna in the lead, and a line of six 
to eight girls. Scenery was carried in one trunk and costumes in 
another. "Reel Guys/' produced by Harry C. Green, "Get Hot/' 
with Milton Berle and nineteen people, "The Little Cottage," with 
Frank Sinclair, Maddock's "Not Yet, Marie/' Clark & Bergman 
with "Seminary Mary/ 7 and "The Wedding Patty" were a few of 

The history of show biz tells us that public taste undergoes a 
change every few years, and it proved it with the quick growth of 
the tabloid musical comedies, which commenced about 1911. They 
were made up to save dough when vaude salaries went UD. The 
"tabs," as they were called, stayed in towns (of single- and double- 
week splits) a full week, sometimes two weeks, changing their 
shows two and three times a week, which was great for the small- 
town managers and saved transportation for the producers (a big 
item). Many vaude acts joined these tabs. By 1912 there were 
over thirty theaters playing small-time vaude that had converted 
to tabs. They first came into their own in the Middle West at a 
io-zo-30-cent scale and ran up bigger grosses than the old road 
shows did at $1.50 scale. They averaged $2,500 to $3,000 a week 
for the show's end. The tabs soon consisted of four or five 
principals and eight chorus gals, with one set of scenery. Salaries 


were about $700, with transportation paid by the manager. Many 
of these tabs were just midget burly shows! 

Fisher, in Los Angeles, Lewis & Lake, Dillon & King, and Charley 
Alpin were the pioneers. The first traveling tab musical comedy 
was organized by Adams & Ghul (an old double Dutch team) in 
the fall of 1911. It gave two bills, changing in the middle of the 
week. The W. S. Butterfield Circuit (with houses all over Mich- 
igan) played it and it was a big money-maker. The second tab was 
headed by Rube Welsh & Kitty Francis, who hung up many 
records on the Inter-State Circuit (all through Texas). The third 
show was Max Bloom's "Sunny Side of Broadway"; on its first 
showing, in Springfield, Illinois, it received contracts for twenty-five 
weeks. Tabloids were getting recognition. 

Boyle Woolfolk became a leader and produced over a dozen 
tabs, then became ambitious and tried to play them in "combina- 
tion houses" instead of in vaude houses. It failed because they just 
weren't good enough to get the higher prices. The tabs were good 
for third- and fourth-grade houses that were a bit tired of playing 
tired vaude acts and were looking for a cheap novelty. The tabs 
started out to play the Pacific Coast for a season for John Cort 
(later John became a big Broadway producer and theater owner) , 
but the tabs failed and the Chicago boys who thought they had 
show biz by the throat were left holding the bag. Minnie Palmer 
(mother of the Marx Bros.) put on different type tabs, better than 
the others, and did very well with them. Dwight Pebble put out 
small-scale tabs for the Gus Sun Circuit (fourth- and fifth-grade 
houses). He did this long before tabs were recognized by the 
larger circuits. 

Robert Sherman put out a dramatic tab and it was such a big hit 
that he soon had a half a dozen out and became the leader in the 
field. He kept salaries down (only way you could keep a tab 
going). Charles E. Kohl and Mort Singer, under the name of the 
Western Extravaganza Company, sent out some very fine shows, 
figuring people were now ready for them, but they weren't so they 

William B. Friedlander put out his first tab, "The Suffragettes/' 
with Nan Halperin (then his wife) featured. It was a record 
breaker, Ned Alvord was the original tab hooker and there was a 
time when he practically controlled the tab biz. He was a terrific 
publicity man. (It was Ned who turned Bill Rose's Crazy Quilt 

Lefty's Letters 238 

flop into a box-office smash.) Tabs were very popular in the South, 
where Winfrey B. Russell was the tops. John & Ella Galvin ? in 
"Little Miss Mix-Up" introduced the tab in the Middle West, 
but it was Adams & Ghul who were the first to play the Western 
Vaudeville Association Time (better houses). The Galvins first 
started in Oklahoma City about 1907. 

The tabs became a craze for the small time and a box-office life- 
saver. By 191 5 they began being censored, because they were getting 
a bit on the burly side and the comics catered to small town smart 
alecks who liked their jokes spicy. 

When the tabs became bigger and better, with good performers, 
special music, book, scenery, lighting, wardrobe, etc., the managers 
in the East figured this might be the "new" form of entertainment 
people were looking for. The Big Time started booking the better 
type tabs (which cleaned up and put on their Sunday manners). 
But they didn't do so good back East on the Big Time because 
they took up too much running time, which cut out a couple of 
regular vaude acts, and the regular vaude audiences no liked. The 
producers had sunk a lot of dough in the tabs, making them too 
expensive for the poor results on the Big Time. When the man- 
agers didn't come through with the big salaries asked, the pro- 
ducers began to cheat on wardrobe, scenery, cast, etc., so they 
could make a little profit. They couldn't book these big produc- 
tions on the small time, because it already had its own producers 
who knew its needs and budgets. 

A few of the real good tabs that played the Big Time were 
"Court by Girls," "The Fair Co-Eds," "The Four Husbands," 
"Kiss Me," "Back to Earth" (with Frank Lawlor), "The Leading 
Lady/' "Naughty Princess," "Oh ? Doctor," "The Only Girl," 
"Reckless Eve," and "Suffragette Revue." We still say it was noth- 
ing "new"; it was just the old Lasky idea of big acts, and not 
as good. 

In 1921 A. B. Marcus Shows were elaborate tabs playing the road 
on percentages. They were closed in many towns for naughtiness 
and sexy advertising. He later took his shows to the Orient and they 
made a lot of dough. 

In 1922 there were tabs in the Midwest playing pirated musical- 
comedy versions of big hits. In 1926 there were 100 tabs it was 
the top year for tabs! 

While on the subject of tabs, I must tell you about a man who 


owned the Playhouse, at Frigonia, North Dakota. He got a tab to 
play for him by offering them the first $i 7 ooo that came In. The 
tab took $8co and told the manager they were sorry he had played 
to a loss. (It was an 8oo-seater.) The manager said, "Me and my 
wife get lonesome up here in the winter and we wanted some nice 
company. It was worth it." 

The tabs made a lot of dough while they lasted, but they didn't 
last long enough. The best that could be said about the tabs, flash 
acts, and girl acts was that it gave people work, which is O.K. 
with me. SEZ 

Your pd, 



Dear Joe, 

When Variety first started, someone on the paper (I believe it 
was Chicot) wrote up an act, saying, "Good for the small time/ 7 
That was the first time the expression, "small time," was used in 
show biz. Before that, they used "act good for smaller houses" or 
"for cheaper houses/ 7 but calling the cheaper and smaller houses 
"small time" clearly divided the better time (Big Time two-a-day) 
and the small time (the houses that did more than two-a-day or 
charged a cheaper admission). 

Marcus Loew was the Keith of the small time. Sullivan & Con- 
sidine, Pantages, and William Fox were runners-up, and Gus Sun 
was low man on the vaude totem pole! 

There were always different levels of show biz, even in the days 
of the honky-tonks. Koster and Rial's was certainly "Big Time" 
against Big Bertha's Casino in Spokane. Eden Musee was higher- 
class than Huber's Museum; Loew's National, in the Bronx, cer- 
tainly had more class than Gus Sun's World in Motion in Coats- 
ville, Pa.; and the Keith and Morris circuits certainly topped all 
of them! 

Lefty's Letters 238 

The small time really started with the museums, when variety 
acts were added to freak attractions and curiosities. Five or six acts 
played over and over again, and continuous vaude developed from 
this. The museum annex was dropped and a good bill was pro- 
vided at small cost, and with prosperity came an increase in salaries. 
Managers then had to raise prices, and this was followed by re- 
served seats (for extra dough). Higher prices demanded better 
shows and forced out the acts that didn't belong; these found work 
at the ten-cent houses, just as their forerunners had turned to 

The Nickolat Company was organized to give five-cent shows in 
stores moving pics with illustrated song slides and a piano player. 
They got the illustrated songs for free from the publishers; this was 
one of the few ways of plugging a song. Every half hour a Negro 
porter shouted out front that the show was over. Soon, because of 
competition, these houses provided piano playing to accompany 
the picture, then added a drummer and maybe a fiddler, and some 
even went as high as a five-piece orchestra. Then an act was added 
to the bill, then a couple more acts, and soon these houses were 
presenting regular small-time vaude. It was about 1908 that the 
x 'pic-vaude" combination really became hot! 

The People's Vaudeville was a fair sample of the two hundred or 
more store shows in New York City giving moving pics and vaude 
for five cents in the afternoon and ten cents at night. Located just 
east of the southeast corner of 12 5th Street and Lenox Avenue, it 
had entrances from two sides, a narrow store space having been 
taken on Lenox Avenue and turned into a passageway leading into 
the theater proper. Tickets were sold at both entrances. Originally 
the arcade fronts were studded with incandescent lights, which 
stopped burning after the first few days; thereafter the front 
illumination was furnished by two flaming arcs, which made a 
bigger show for the money. 

Shows ran for over an hour and included three i,ooo-foot films, 
two vaude acts, and an illustrated song. When biz was light, they 
were even longer, with a fourth film and an extra song added. But 
around 10 P.M. when people started piling in and packing the 
hall, the entertainment went down to two and a half reels and one 
vaude turn not running over twenty minutes. This was on a slow 
week night; what the show was cut to during rush hours on big 
nights may be imagined. Capacity was about three hundred, with 


one hundred standing in the back. They put a card out at the side 
of the stage with the name of the vaude act, and when the pic 
was on, the}- put out a card reading "moving picture/' as if you 
wouldn't know what it was. Sometimes when there were no titles 
on the pics you just made up your own. There was no "dip" to 
the house, which made it tough for the customers to see. (Marcus 
Loew and Joe Schenck were part of the People's Circuit.) 

Speaking about cutting shows when there were crowds, I must 
tell you about the time Clark & Verdi (the first two-man Italian 
act) played Proctor's Twenty-third Street. They had an amateur 
night, and the crowds were waiting to get in. The manager ran 
backstage and told everybody to cut their acts so they could get 
the crowds in. "How much shall we cut?" asked Clark and Verdi. 
"Cut, cut, cut/' said the manager, "We have to get those people 
in/' Clark & Verdi, who usually did a 2ominute comedy act, that 
night opened with "Hiya, do you wanna job?" "Shoes/' said the 
partner. "Then come witha me!" And they walked off the stage. 
The shortest act on record. The manager came back roaring mad, 
but all Clark and Verdi said was, "You told us to cut we did!" 
The manager had no argument. This is one of the classic stories 
among vaude performers. 

Just think, in 1904 there was not a single five-cent theater de- 
voted to moving pics, and in 1907 there were 5,000 nickelodeons! 
They were developing new theatergoers. Attendance was two mil- 
lion people a day, of which one third were kids. The average 
expense of running one of these store shows was $175 to $200 a 
week. Seating capacity was usually 199, because over 199 seats 
meant a higher license fee. Some of the places did twelve to 
eighteen shows a day. 

This pic-vaude combination was essentially a poor man's amuse- 
ment. It looked to the lower classes for support. Immigrants 
learned to read English from watching the pics and having their 
sons and daughters explain the titles to them. The combination 
shows gathered in the rough and tough of both sexes who had 
little to spend but a long time to spend it in. Where there was 
competition, features had to be added to attract the opposition 
business, and this increased the cost; then the admission had to be 
raised, and with increased admissions the poor man, whose patron- 
age built up these shows in the first place, was cut off. 

William Fox was a pioneer in small-time vaude. He took over 

Lefty's Letters 240 

the Dewey Theatre on East Fourteenth Street (an old burlesque 
house) for $50 a day rent. He gave Kraus (the owner) a check for 
$3,500, for a ten weeks' advance. He did great and took over the 
Gotham in Harlem, paying $40,000 a year, then took a lease on 
the Dewey for $60,000 a year. Fox became the owner of the 
Greater New York Film Exchange and developed more of an in- 
terest in pictures than he had in vaude. He became one of the 
biggest men in the pic business. And at one time he tried to buy 
up all the theaters In America. He failed (thank goodness) . 

The Bronx Theatre, which Arthur Jacobs owned, was the first in 
the Bronx to play vaude with any pretensions. It was only a 299- 
seater. The Bernheimer Bros, store in Baltimore played seven acts 
of vaude six shows a day, and seated only 300 people. There was 
even Yiddish vaude at the Mt. Morris Theatre on n6th Street 
and Fifth Avenue. At one time there were five theaters on Four- 
teenth Street playing vaude and pics, charging 10-20-30: Pastor's, 
the Unique, Union Square, the Fourteenth Street Theatre, and 
the Dewey. 

There were many acts that had angles, even in those tiny 
theaters. One act bought $2.00 worth of tickets for the Erst show 
and packed the place to make sure the act would go over and 
maybe save itself a cancellation. Over on Avenue A (New York) 
there was a pic show that gave you soda water with a tiny dab of 
ice cream all for five cents! 

The Imperial Theatre on n6th Street and Lenox Avenue, orig- 
inally opened by Sam Taub (a great showman), then later owned 
by the McKibbon Bros, and booked by Joe Wood, was an in- 
cubator for future headlines Mrs. Jessel (George's sainted mother, 
who loved show folks, and whom Georgie is keeping alive by his 
famous "telephone calls") was in the box office. Walter Winchell, 
Jack Weiner (who later became a great agent), Eddie Cantor, 
Bert Hanlon, Burns & Fulton, Laurie & Bronson, Leonard & Ward, 
and the Evans Bros, were just a few that hatched there. The 
McKibbon Bros, would cancel the real bad acts, and the Evans 
Bros, (hoofers), who lived next door, would come in to see the 
opening show with their wooden shoes in their hands, ready to go 
on any minute. 

M. R. Sheedy left the United Booking Office and became inde- 
pendent opposition with a small-time circuit (Ben Piermont later 
was the booker of this circuit and a very good one), and Sheedy 


had many houses on his circuit. Walter Plimmer, an old-timer, 
also was a big inde in the early days of small time. His son, Walter, 
Jr., became a very good actor; he now is a priest and has been made 
an honorary Lamb, which is a great honor to the Lambs! W. 
Cleveland, an old minstrel manager, was another big inde agent. 
The Unique on East Fourteenth Street put in illuminated signs 
on the sides of the stage of the name of each act as it appeared, 
getting away from the card system. There were no programs. 

The small-time theaters couldn't play a big act, so they had to 
take what they could get Hokum (originally called "okum") and 
slapstick acts were fed to the small-time audiences, who loved them. 
It undid five years (1903-1908) of trying to promote cleaner and 
better bills, but it made dough, and that's all the managers were 
thinking of. 

Illinois is credited with having introduced small time to the 
Middle West. The Bijou in Ouincy was first to enter the field with 
a store show in 1908. Chicago booked 150 to 200 of these small 
theaters in a week I 

The Dewey, in New York, advertised twenty-five fans, making it 
the coolest house in town. They had to turn off the fans when the 
acts went on, as you couldn't hear a thing with them going. People 
were standing in long lines to see pics and vaude at a time when 
only some world-wide star could get such response in legit. Cane's 
Manhattan (on the spot where Gimbel's is now) gave them two 
acts and three reels of pics, a one-hour show for ten cents. Gane 
barred sensational, crime, or suggestive films. Acts playing the real 
small-time theaters had to use the floodlights from the pic 
machine, because the small-time houses had no spotlight. 

In 1909 Joe Leo was booking fifteen weeks of small time for 
William Fox. There were thirty-two small-time houses in the 
U.B.O. Then there was the Metropolitan Vaude Exchange, booked 
by Joe Wood, with fifty small-time theaters on his books. 

It was in 1909 that New York's Mayor McClelland tried to re- 
voke all moving-pic licenses, but the court stopped him. Dan 
Hennessy, an old-tinier, took charge of the U.B.O. family-time 
(small-time) houses and was in that spot for many years. He could 
have made a fortune, but died a poor man because he was honest. 
(A swell guy!) Pat Casey (at this writing the last of the greats of 
old vaude) took over the Metropolitan Exchange and booked fifty 
weeks of small time; his brother Dan was treasurer, and Joe Wood, 

Lefty's Letters 242 

to whom it had originally belonged, became just a part of the 
agency. Then he and it were both taken over by the UJB.O.l 
People's Vaude, with Joe Schenck as head man, booked twelve 
houses (including Loew's). 

Pop Grauman (father of the famous Sid) was up for mayor of 
Frisco, in 1909, but didn't make it. He was a great showman for 
thirty-four years; he took out the first colored minstrels on the 
road after the Civil War. He was also the Erst to introduce high- 
class vaude at a ten-cent price on the Coast, at the Unique (after- 
wards named the National). A man always kind and considerate 
to the actor. 

A sensation was caused on Broadway when Big Jim Morton was 
booked in two small-time houses (doing eight shows a day), the 
Circle and the Manhattan, for Gane, at $2,000 a week. He called 
himself the "human film." And it was the beginning of "small 
time" growing up! 

In 1909 the small-time vaude houses were driving out the straight 
pic houses (as the talkies drove out the silent-pic houses). The 
small-time manager with from $400 to $1,500 a week to spend was 
a self-satisfied person. He was looking further ahead than the big- 
time manager. 

Hurtig and Seamon's Metropolis Roof played vaude in summer 
vaude, beer, and delicatessen. The orchestra, with Joe Ali and 
six musicians, played twenty-minute intermissions so the customers 
could beer up and visit the delicatessen. Neatly printed cards were 
given to the audience, saying that there was a lunch counter in the 
rear of the hall; pig's knuckles, cold jelly, and potato salad could 
be had for twenty-five cents! The orchestra played ten overtures 
during the evening to give the customers a chance to buy! 

In 1907 there was an epidemic of "living pictures" (a revival of 
the old honky-tonks). Ladies posed in tights, which brought them 
under the head of theatrical performances and required a $500 
license. Small-time acts (some Big Timers too) went in for pathos, 
singing mother songs with a recitation (in an amber spot) or doing 
a poem about a dog. The guy would stand dejectedly, gazing at 
the floor with a pained expression, wringing his cap, while the 
piano player rendered "Hearts and Flowers"; it was not pathos, it 
was pathetic! (But it got a big hand.) 

As the small time progressed, the music publishers began charg- 
ing the managers for the song slides (which up to now had been 


given for free) . The slides, which started at $5.00 a set, brought in 
a quarter of a million dollars a year to the publishers. 

Vaude was getting pretty dirty in 1908. (It cleaned up again 
later.) The following notice appeared in the local dailies in 
Seattle: "Clean Bills The following houses at their performances 
yesterday presented programs free from vulgarity Coliseum, Pan- 
tages, Star." The omission of the Orpheum, which was the 
standard vaude house, showed that the "blue material" was creep- 
ing into the Big Time. (It was the only time I ever knew the 
Orpheum Circuit to step away from the strict censorship of blue 

Chicago was a hotbed of "pop" vaude. The Western Vaudeville 
Association cared for a large string. William Morris looked after a 
long string of pop houses, as did Walter Keefe, Coney Holmes, 
Frank Q. Doyle, and Charles Doutrick, who all supplied acts to a 
number of small houses. In the South they had plenty of small 
houses and agencies. The Greenwood Agency, with headquarters 
in Atlanta, was the biggest one down there. It was rough going for 
an act playing the South around 1909. The managers there were 
new to show biz and were even smaller than their houses. Phila- 
delphia had hundreds of houses playing "pop" vaude. Between Chi- 
cago and Frisco there weren't very many small-time bookings of 
importance. In later years there was the Ackerman & Harris Circuit 
booking that territory and it was called the "Death Trail." The 
jumps were terrific and the acts had to play three days and lose 
the rest of the week to make the next jump. They would owe 
themselves money when they finished the tour. I do want to say 
that Mr. Ackerman was a fine gentleman and showman, as was 
Mr. Harris, but their ideas didn't work out for the actor. George 
Webster in the Dakotas headed a small circuit of houses controlled 
by people of many occupations; it was rough. At Frisco there was 
a great independent by the name of Bert Levy (no relation to the 
vaude artist). Sullivan & Considine and Pantages were not classed 
as small time, but were medium time, as distinguished from Big 
Time, small time, big small time, and small time. 

Pop vaude attracted small investors. Cases are known where the 
investment was less than $100 for a two-act and pic show. The 
arrangements in those cases were an agreement between the pro- 
moter and the prop of a foiling straight pic house or the manager 
of an opry house who couldn't get enough combination or rep 

Lefty 9 s Letters u * 

shows to keep his place open. These places were often booked by 
fly-by-night agents and many acts were paid less than their con- 
tracts called for, or sometimes not paid at all, the manager closing 
up or pleading poverty. The act was at a disadvantage in a small 
town, as far as taking their troubles to court, because many times 
the manager was the sheriff or even the judge, so you just packed 
up and tested the next bookings. In the early days of vaude, 
acts, when with a "shaky* outfit, would always draw in advance 
from the manager so they would be that much ahead if there was 
no pay-off and the habit hung on in the small time. When an act 
got into town they'd touch the box office with the excuse that they 
had run short of dough because of the big jump, or that they had 
sent their money to the bank and left themselves short, etc. Later, 
as the business grew solid, there were few box-office touches, al- 
though I do know of cases on the Big Time where the first thing 
an act did was to get an advance on some pretext or other. The 
big-time manager had nothing to lose because he was going to pay 
them anyway, and if anything happened to the act that they didn't 
play out the week, the booking office would collect (or the act 
would lose its bookings). 

Jones, Linick & Schafer, in Chicago, started in the slot-machine 
business and later built up a big small-time circuit around Chicago. 
James L. Lederer was the pioneer "pop" vaude manager in Chi- 
cago. There was a theater there called Shindler's; when the man- 
ager canceled an act, he would walk down the aisle and yell, 
"You are shutl" (instead of closed). Actors hated him! 

At the beginning of small time, the illustrated song played a big 
part, as the singers became local favorites (like M.C.s did many 
years later), Edward Roesch at the S. & C. in Seattle sang no 
consecutive weeks. Arthur Elwell at Pantages in the same city 
did 174 weeks. Jack Driscoll sang illustrated songs at the Four- 
teenth Street Theatre, New York, for five years. 

There were some funny combinations on the small time. There 
was a family by the name of Hope (not Bob) . The Six Hopes came 
from Brooklyn, and did twelve acts for $36. They all played a 
variety of instruments and supplied the accompaniments when the 
others sang or danced. They did a musical sketch, and all did single 
acts and acrobatics. Everybody filled in with a specialty. They 
could do anything from a two-hour show to a full night's enter- 


Small time was originally called "family time" the small store 
shows were usually run by the family, mother selling tickets, father 
at the door, daughter playing the piano 7 and son running the pic 
machine. In igog there were 2,000 small-time theaters, 1,000 east 
and 1,000 west. Grauman's National Theatre in Frisco never billed 
the house on billboards or advertised in the newspapers, and the 
place was always jammed. Sid Grauman (his son) later became the 
greatest showman on the Coast. Remember the stars' footprints in 
the cement outside Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood? 
That stunt of Sid's received world-wide publicity. 

By 1910 Loew was starting to book big-time headliners in some 
of his larger theaters, like Amelia Bingham (great legit star) at 
$1,500 a week. (This was a far cry from earlier salaries of $20 for 
singles, $40 for doubles, $60 for trios, and $80 for quartettes; if 
you had five people in the act you w r ere out of luck, or maybe 
they would tag on ten bucks to the pay check.) At Loew's National 
Theatre in the Bronx he had thirty-three musicians and at his 
Seventh Avenue Theatre there were twenty-five musicians. He 
changed his prices from twenty-five cents to $1.00 top. William Fox 
opened his Nemo Theatre (originally Lion's Palace, built in 1908) . 
Ushers wore tuxedos and there was a class audience for vaude-pics. 
Sigmund Lubin already was retiring from his vaude-pic houses in 
Philadelphia where he had introduced this form of entertainment. 

To give you an idea of what strides the small time was making, 
at the Circle Theatre (New York) they offered a ten-act bill for 
a dime; it was the most costly line-up ever offered for the price, 
paying as high as $500 for an act (the opposition was Loew's 
Lincoln Square). There were over 500 theaters who were playing 
acts costing a maximum price of $300! Standard acts would play 
the small time under assumed names, to grab a few weeks' work 
in out of the way spots. (If they played under their right billing 
their value on the Big Time would be lowered.) 

In 1910 they were opening "Hippodromes" all over the country 
and putting on open-air vaude shows in baseball parks, etc., with 
prices from ten cents to fifty cents. Some spots made plenty, but 
most of them were flops. They used "sight acts," bands, circus, 
dancers, and acrobats. (No microphone in those days and a talking 
act couldn't be heard.) In Los Angeles they had a theater called 
the Nine Cent Theatre that advertised eight acts and 6,000 feet 
of film for nine cents' admish! In New Orleans they had "premium 

Lefty's Letters m 

vaudeville." At your favorite store yon bought fifty cents' worth of 
merchandise and they gave you a coupon; two coupons admitted 
you to the theater In 1911 the famous Brandenberg Museum in 
Philadelphia closed after trying burly, vaude, and pics. There was 
plenty small time; they played acts to take the monotony off the 
films* It was a case of quantity, not of quality. The price was the 
main consideration. Herman Robinson, the New York Commis- 
sioner of Licenses, approved 104,000 contracts, and said, "The 
average salary was $80 for singles, $115 for teams, $150 for trios, 
and for acts with four or more people $250." 

By 1912 there were more than 1,000 theaters playing class and 
medium vaudeville acts and 4,000 playing small time. Stagehands 
demanded that acts with one or more stage sets must carry a 
special stagehand, property man, or carpenter. Stagehands got $35 
a week, the carpenter $40. (Now stagehands make as much as two 
and three hundred a week with overtime, etc.) Acts naturally had 
to ask for more money to cover the stagehand's traveling expense 
and salary (and to make a little on it). The big-time was affected 
more than the small-time act, but there were many on the small 
time using "Diamond Dye drops' 7 (could be folded and carried 
in a trunk) . Producers of acts left the Big Time because of no 
consecutive bookings, slashed salaries, and grafting agents and 
bookers. They came to the small time where they could get a break, 
maybe at smaller salaries, but with consecutive bookings. The year 
1912 gave small time a terrific boom, some houses making a net 
profit of $18,000 a week. They were getting a lot of acts from the 
Big Time because the acts were sure of a longer route and no 
cancellation clause in their contracts! On the Big Time an act 
wasn't sure of his dates, even if he held contracts for them; they 
could switch routes or cancel on two weeks' notice. 

Jones, Linick & Schafer opened their Colonial Theatre in Chi- 
cago, with four shows a day, and on opening day 10,000 people 
showed up. Tickets were sold at the Boston Store (a department 
store) for one cent as an ad for the house. In California one place 
advertised "hot and cold" vaudeville; when it was hot they gave 
the show in the airdome and when it was cold they gave it in the 
theater. There were many airdomes throughout the country; they 
were small outdoor theaters, and anybody who had a back yard 
could (and did) open one. The gag among actors was, "We couldn't 
play today at the airdome; the manager's wife had her clothes on 


the line." Some small-time managers were a bit larcenous. They 
would pay off the acts, just before train time, In dimes, nickels, and 
quarters (making an excuse that they had to pay off from the day's 
receipts) . The act had no time to count up until they were on the 
train, and would then find their salaries short at least $2.00. Too 
late to kick for such a small amount. But when you figure it up 
on a season, the thieving manager had a few easy but dirty bucks! 

In 1913 Gordon & Lord opened the Scollay Square Olympia 
Theatre in Boston, a 3,2co-seater with no posts, and did six shows 
a day at a twenty-five cent top. The United Booking Office raised 
salaries because of an act shortage, then later on, in the year 1914, 
cut them on account of the war bringing in lots of acts from 
Europe. Detroit had vaude represented in all different grades be- 
cause U.B.O., Pantages, Loew, Western Vaude, Gus Sun, and 
Earl Cox were all booking theaters there. Loew opened Ebbets 
Field in Brooklyn as an open-air night resort with pic and vaude 
and showed a profit. The open-air theaters had a tough time show- 
ing pictures in the pioneer days of films. When the full moon was 
out, the audience couldn't see the pic. It was "Roxy" who intro- 
duced the daylight screen on which you could show pics out- 
doors (or indoors), regardless of the light. 

Commutation tickets were given by Moss & Brill at their Mc- 
Kinley Square Theatre, New York, for the first time anywhere. Six 
admissions for twenty-five cents at matinees and seven admissions 
for $1.00 at night shows. Loew started the personal appearances of 
prominent pic players with Sidney Bracy and Frank Farrington, 
stars of a serial, "Million Dollar Mystery," which was playing his 
houses. They did a piano act at two houses a night, but no 
matinees, as they were shooting future installments of the picture 
in the afternoons. They received $300 a week and did big at the 
box office. Some years later Nils T. Granlund (N.T.G.), who was 
Loew's press agent, had many stars from pics make personal ap- 
pearances at Loew's theaters, just taking a bow, and making seven 
and eight houses a night (with motorcycle escorts) . And still more 
years later the personal appearances were run into the ground when 
pic stars tried to do an act, which proved that they were pic stars 

Small-time vaude opened at the Lexington Opera House (New 
York), built by Oscar Hammerstein for his operas, but according 
to his contract with the Metropolitan Opera Company (to whom 

Lefty's Letters 248 

he sold out), he could not play opera for ten years. In 1915 we 
saw the passing of the first Keith house in New York City, Keith's 
Union Square; after thirty years it was returned to the landlord, 
the Palmer Estate. It later became a small-time pop house and 
even tried tab shows and pics. It was finally rebuilt as a store. The 
Hippodrome, Boston (formerly Keith's National), played Creatore 
and his band of fifty pieces along with pics, and also gave free 
parking space to customers (first time any theater gave away park- 
ing space). 

Lillian Russell, brought to Loew's National, by Zit (publisher 
of Zit's Weekly, a trade paper he also handled some acts, busi- 
ness and advertising), was called to take a bow, and made a speech 
and got hell from the U.B.O. Loew's New Orpheum, Boston, 
opened and had box offices on three streets. Vic Morris, the 
manager, was a great showman. 

The opening of the State-Lake Theatre, Chicago, in 1919 marked 
a new era for small-time vaude and in entertainment. It seated 
3,100 with grosses never less than $20,000 a week. It started a rush 
to build large theaters for pop vaude. Orpheum Circuit went in for 
it good and heavy and called their pop houses Junior Orpheums. 
It was that same year that the United Booking Office changed its 
name to Keith Vaudeville Exchange in memory of B. F. Keith. 
The Capitol Theatre, New York, opened as the largest theater in 
the world, with 5,300 seats; the plot alone cost three million bucks. 
There were fourteen dancers in the chorus, twelve show gals, nine 
men and nine gal dancers, and Arthur Pryor and seventy musicians; 
with twelve specialty acts. It played to $18,000 the first week and 
went into vaude and pics later. 

William Fox was doing many unethical things with his booking 
of acts. Finally he couldn't stand the pounding the trade papers 
and the Vaudeville Managers Protective Association were giving 
him, so he finally issued a play-or-pay contract and even went 
further; he put in the contract what spot the act would have on 
the bill (first time this was done). Fox was having a tough time 
getting acts, because Keith, booking the Moss houses (which were 
opposition to Fox), barred all acts that played for Fox. In 1921 
there were 156 weeks of three-a-day split weeks. There were 12,000 
vaude acts idle, as 20 per cent of the houses changed to straight 

The small time was the breeding place of gag and act pirates. 


Managers would play them because they were cheaper than the 
originals. Vaudeville was not variety any more, it was repetition. 
The great Eva Tanguay was playing the Pantages Time doing four 
or five a day. In 1923 the Orpheum Circuit put small-time vaude in 
three of their big-time houses, Majestic (Chicago), Majestic (Mil- 
waukee), and Orpheum (St. Louis), all playing the State-Lake 
policy. The next year there was talk about eliminating the Big 
Time and small time all to do vaude and pics. It was getting 
tough on the Big Time, because the "pP" houses were playing 
almost as good shows as they were, maybe with just a few less acts, 
but a much cheaper admish. The New York Hippodrome, taken 
over by Keith, did $50,000 weeks, and none less than $35,000, and 
with small-time shows. 

In 1926 it was very tough for the independent agents and circuits; 
these were tiny places playing just a few acts. It got so bad the 
acts were getting $7.00 a day (they were getting less, but the N.R.A. 
put that price as the minimum). One strong man who tore a 
phone book in half at every show had to go out and steal the books 
from phone booths, as they cost forty cents apiece. He also would 
bend nails and spikes in his act and throw 'em away, but on that 
salary he would bend them back for the next show. 

'When small-time vaude got that low, it was breathing its last, 
It kept gasping for a few more years and finally gave up when the 
Palace went into four and five shows a day with vaude-pic policy, 
and a few more years saw Loew's State Theatre, the small-time 
banner house, give up vaude and just play pics! Now there is no 
Big Time or small time in fact, there just isn't anything you can 
really call vaudevillel SEZ 

Your pal, 


Lefty's Letters 

Big Pay Checks 

Dear Joe, 

Years ago when we said a guy was 'loaded/' it meant just one 
thing: he was drunk! But today when you say a guy is "loaded" it 
means he has much moolah. Me and Aggie have also noticed that 
years ago we used to talk about a guy having talent, but today 
they speak about his heavy money belt, collection of banknotes, or 
junior Fort Knox vault. Stars of today have a half-a-dozen things 
going for them oil wells, real estate, horses, breeding farms, radio 
and TV stations, baseball clubs, chain stores, etc. Most of yester- 
day's rich performers made their fortunes with pure show-biz 
money! With living expenses comparatively cheap and no taxes, 
they made net almost as much as the stars of today who receive 
much larger salaries, but they don't add up to so much "take to 
the bank" pay! 

You could almost have given a party at Rector's, Churchill's, or 
Shanley's for what a tab for two at the Stork Club, Twenty-One, 
the Colony, or Chambord comes to I A $50,000 estate in those days 
was equal to one of $250,000 today. Servants and help were cheap. 
A star had a valet or maid who worked at the theater as well as at 
home and who also acted as secretary, etc. Today a star's payroll 
includes a private press agent, personal rep, secretary, valet, writers, 
musicians, and at least half-a-dozen hangers-on; office rent, trans- 
portation, and advertising are additional expenses. The old-timers 
paid no taxes (until 1913 and then only about i per cent, I be- 
lieve), and the buck was worth a buck! They did eight shows a 
week in legit and two a day in vaude, and never heard of psy- 
chiatrists or ulcers. No worries about "capital-gains deals" or how 
much the other fellow was getting,, and yet they made plenty of 
dough and got plenty of laughs. 

At the Theater Comique (a honky-tonk) they paid the Boisettes 
and the Garnellas, two acrobatic acts, $300 each, and the cheapest 
act on the bill got $75. Expenses of the house were $3,200 a week, 
and they played to $4,500 a week for many months. This was 
in 1879! 


In 1895 O scar Hammerstein paid Yvette Guilbert $4,000 a week 
for a four-week ran at his Olympia Theater. She played to $60,000 
during her stay. In 1900 he paid Williams & Walker $1,750 a week 
and Proctor paid 7 em $2,000. In 1906 Huber paid $9,000 to Libbera^ 
"The Man with Two Bodies." He hired Madison Square Garden 
(the old one) for February and March, because his small museum 
on Fourteenth Street couldn't possibly get him his dough back 
for this high-salaried attraction. Remember, this was a museum 

Eva Tanguay was getting $500 a week in 1907 and in a few years 
had jumped to $2,500; Cecilia Loftus was getting $2,000; Peter 
Dailey, $1,000; Marie Lloyd, $1,200; Vesta Victoria, $2,500 (then 
$3,000 highest-priced act in vaude); Elsie Janis, $2,500, Lauder 
came over for Klaw & Erlanger for $2,500 and later reached $5,000 
for William Morris (with Morris paying the English managers 
$1,000 a week for Mr. Lauder's release). A couple of years later 
Blanche Ring received $1,500; Denman Thompson (Old Home- 
stead fame) got $2,100; Gertrude Hoffman & Co., $3,000; Albert 
Chevalier, $1,600. 

James J. Jeffries received $3,000 a week at the Wigwam in Frisco. 
Bayes & Norworth got $1,750 (later got much more). Marcus 
Loew offered George M. Cohan $10,000 to play a week for him, 
and George M. said no (that was practically like $50,000 today). 
Lina Cavalieri at the London Music Hall received $5,000, the 
highest salary ever paid over there for a single. Sarah Bernhardt, in 
her first vaude plunge, was paid $4,000 a week by Sir Alfred Butt. 
Buffalo Bill was signed by Frank Evans for $3,000 a week. Nat 
Goodwin signed his weekly pay check for $2,500, Amelia Bingham 
for $2,000, and Jacob Adler (the famous Jewish actor) got $1,300 
a week! 

In 1911 Leoncavallo (composer of Pagliacci} and orchestra 
received $5,000 a week in London. In 1912 Caruso received $3,000 
a concert in the United States. He got $8,000 a night in Buenos 
Aires (eighty-four grand in all) with the proviso that he must sing 
at least two songs a night. Two years later Al Jalson got $2,500 
at the Brighton Beach Theatre. Ten years later he broke away 
from Columbia Records, where he got $7,000 a side, and went to- 
Brunswick, where he got $10,000 per release. In 1929 he broke 
Coast records in pic houses. At the Warfield Theatre in Frisco 
he played to $57,000 on percentage. The next year, at the Capitol,.. 

Lefty's Letters 252 

New York, Jolson got $20,000 on a 5050 percentage deal over 
$ioQ,cco; he did about $80,000. Show folks were betting he would 
do over $100,000 (and lost). He did five and six shows a day and 
would have gone way over $100,000, but he changed his songs 
ever}' show, and the audience would stay to hear the new songs, and 
so cut down the "turnover." The management went wild, but Al 
was only interested in "getting over." 

In 1913 Wilkie Bard got $3,250, John Bunny nabbed $1,000 for 
a monologue, Mike Bernard signed with Columbia Records for 
$10,000 a year to make a few records twice a year. The Singer 
Midgets had a funny contract; they received $1,000 a week clear, 
the Loew Circuit paying all expenses hotel bills, food, and travel 
for the thirty-three people, animals, animal trainers, etc. (which 
amounted to real big money). In 1915 Jess Willard got $4,000 a 
week (and didn't draw). John McCormack, the famous Irish 
tenor, asked for $25,000 a week, based on his concert-tour guarantee 
of $1,500 a concert, fourteen shows a week, etc, Managers gasped 
a loud no! 

George Robey was in 1918 the highest taxpayer in England, pay- 
ing $60,000. That same year Mary Pickford paid Uncle Sam $300,- 
ooo. Shubert Vaude paid Nora Bayes $3,500 (she later received 
$5,000 in pic houses). Will Rogers got $3,000 from Schubert 
Vaude, but he made six and seven grand a week on his concert 
tours, besides his after-dinner speeches and pics and newspaper 
articles. The Dolly Sisters played two houses a week and got $5,000. 
In 1924 Dempsey's income tax was $90,000; his manager, Doc 
Kearns, paid $71,000. Kearns and Dempsey sometimes split their 
earnings in vaude. Kearns introduced Jack at the State and did a 
short bit "in one" with him and got $2,500 for his bit (the highest- 
priced straight man in show biz in 1924). Dempsey got $8,000 a 
week for four weeks at Luna Park, Berlin. It was 1924 that Gilda 
Gray, at the Metropolitan Theatre in L.A., got $14,000 for her 
shareand it was Holy Week! Paul Whiteman and his band re- 
ceived $7,500 at Keith's Hippodrome, New York top vaude salary 
at that time. A few years later the pic houses paid him $12,000 and 
paid for the transportation of thirty-three men. He gave the full 
show on the bills. It was the year the pic houses, with their large 
capacities, were skyrocketing salaries. Regular big-time acts that 
had been getting $500 to $750 were getting $1,500 to $3,000 a week 
from the pic houses. Ina Claire was getting $3,000 a week in vaude. 


Gertrude Lawrence, doing five sliows a day at the Paramount 
(Chariot's Revue Unit), collected $3,500 a week for herself. Ruth 
Elder signed for twenty-five weeks at $5,000 a week. The Lee Kids 
(Jane & Kathryn), the first vande and talking act to play the 
Metropolitan at Los Angeles, got $2,000 for the week. It was 1927 
that the most exploited individual of the century, Lindbergh, was 
offered the most fantastic salaries ever heard of in show biz: 
$100,000 for a twenty-eight-day tour doing two shows a day; $25,000 
a week at the Roxy; $500,000 a year in pics; $100,000 for one week 
to play a theater on the Coast. (This was the absolute top figure 
that anybody was ever offered anyplace! And they meant it and 
no doubt would even have showed a profit.) Al Woods, after hear- 
ing all the offers, said, 'Til take his cat for $10,000 a week." He 
received 3,500,000 letters, 100,000 telegrams, seven million busi- 
ness offers. One pic company wanted to pay him a million bucks 
if he would marry any girl of his own choosing (nice of them) and 
let them photograph the wedding. He received thousands of mar- 
riage proposals, three invites to go to the moon via a rocket, 14,000 
gifts, and 500 close(?) relations asked for dough. He got more 
letters from women than from men. Over $100,000 in stamps were 
enclosed for return postage. So you can see he could have been 
the highest salaried act in vaude but he settled for $2,500 a week 
with the Guggenheim Foundation for five years. 

Peaches Browning did big in vaude playing on percentage. Amos 
'n' Andy received $5,000 a week for Keith-Albee dates, and $7,500 
in pic houses. Fanny Brice got a $3,5oo-a-week guarantee and per- 
centage from Keith. Maurice Chevalier turned down $5,000 to sing 
six songs at a Clarence Mackay party because he had to pay com- 
mission he never paid commission, he said. 

Eddie Cantor got $7,500 single at the Palace (tied Ed Wynn), 
and in 1931 with the Cantor-Jessel Unit his end was $8,000, which 
was tops for a single on the Big Time (not pic houses). Rudy 
Vallee started at $3,000 at the Paramount in Brooklyn and was 
raised to $4,500 (he stayed two and a half years). Ed Wynn (in 
1931) received $7,500 as M.C. (tying Eddie Cantor) at the Palace 
eighteen years after he was on the opening Palace bill. The Marx 
Bros, got a sweet $10,000 a week at the Palace (a very big act) , the 
highest-priced act in vaude. 

In 1921 Vallee, Maurice Chevalier, and Amos V Andy were the 
only new actor millionaires in three years I 

Lefty's Letters 254 

Gene Tunney got $7,000 at Loews State. Van & Schenck made 
$4,500 at the Chicago Theatre and sweetened It up by doubling in 
a cafe and getting $3,500 more. Lou Holtz "Sole-Mioed" for $4,250 
and went to $6,000. Kate Smith in 1921 was playing full weeks for 
$3,500 and got $7,000 in pic houses. Maurice Chevalier got $12,000 
at the Chicago Theatre (house lost $15,000) . When Aimee Sernple 
McPheison played at the Capitol, New York, for $5,000, the house 
lost $20,000. Ben Bernie & Band got $6,500, the same for Fred 
Waring, and Ted Lewis and his group got $7,500! 

Guy Lombardo and his show toured for Standard Oil of New 
Jersey for ten grand a week (free admissions). Joe Penner went 
from $950 a week to $8,000 a week in three months. One week he 
got $13,250 (on percentage). It was all due to his terrific radio 
build-up. (Did seven shows a day in some houses.) Sally Rand 
started at the Chicago Fair in 1933 for $125 a week and ended up 
getting $5,000. Ethel Waters, playing pic houses, received $4,500, 
which up to then was tops for a Negro performer. Later Lena 
Home and Josephine Baker topped this. 

Eddie Cantor at the RKO, Boston, got $25,000 for a six-day 
week he carried six people with his unit (whom of course he had 
to pay). Jimmy Durante got $5,000 a week in London, which was 
the top American single salary up to then. In 1929 Bea Lillie got 
$6,500, and Dempsey, for "Roadside Inn/ 7 received $6,500, Cantor 
got $7,500 for endorsement of Old Gold cigarettes (Jolson only 
got $2,500). In 1932 the most important draws were, one, pic per- 
sonalities, two, musical comedy stars, and three, radio, followed by 
vaude headliners! It was this year that Loew paid big dough to 
acts for his de luxe pic houses to cover up a siege of bad pics. They 
did this to keep their patronage; once a customer switched to 
another theater, it was tough to get him back. Loew paid Belle 
Baker $4,000 (she got $2,500 from Keith), and Sophie Tucker 
$7,500 (she got $2,500 from Keith), etc. Loew played the tops 
and paid the top salaries for about eight weeks, until the pic 
drought was over! 

Through his appearance on the Vallee radio show, Edgar Ber- 
gen's salary jumped from $300 to $2,800 (and got much bigger 
later) . Helen Morgan, at Loew's State (her first time in vaude 
after two years), got $2,500. Rubinoff, who made his rep on the 
Eddie Cantor radio show, was getting $6,000 a week in pic houses. 
Kay Kyser & Band, on percentage deals, pulled down $26,000 at 


Fox, Detroit. In 1931 East & Dumke ("Sisters of the Skillet") 
through their radio build-up jumped from $350 to $1,500. 

Radio did a lot to boost vaude salaries. In 1926 Cantor got 
$1,500 for fifteen minutes, and the next year Amos V Andy 
jumped from $2 50 a week to $2,000. 

Of course when you start hitting 1943 and up you get into the 
real crazy era of salaries. Sinatra with $15,000 guarantee and 50 
per cent of* the gross gets himself around forty-one Gs at the 
Chicago Theatre. Danny Kaye packs a bundle of $79,000 for two 
weeks at the same place, with same guarantee, only Danny did it 
in two weeks! But Major Bowes was making $100,000 a week at 
one time with his Amateur Units, radio, and Capitol job! He paid 
his male amateurs $50 on the road and the gals got $60. (I guess 
he realized that gals needed more money to live.) When his units 
went down to $2oo,ooo-a-year income, he gave it up as not worth 
while bothering with. At one time he had gross units bringing 
in $900,000 a year! (And the guy paid the kids fifty and sixty 
bucks! doing as many shows a day as called for, riding on buses, 
and sleeping in flea bags that's what you get for being stage- 
struck! We did the same thing, but had laughs with it.) The 
Major left a lot of money to charity! 

High salaries of the '405 included Jack Benny's $40,000 at the 
Roxy (paying for his own show), then $92,000 in Detroit and 
Cleveland; Bob Hope's $40,000 at the Paramount; Grace Moore, 
$20,000 at the Roxy; the De Marcos, $5,000, a new high for a dance 
team. However, years ago the Castles did a week of one-night 
stands to a sweet $31,000, Lillian Russell was paid $2,500 a week, 
and the Dolly Sisters were guaranteed $2,000 a week at the Hotel 

How about Milton Berle with fifteen Gs for four days at the 
Copacabana in Florida, and his ten grand a week in cafes and TV 
shows? Jess Willard got $1,000 a day with the 101 Ranch, as did 
Tom Mix, and Gene Autry doubled that, I believe, with Barnum 
& Bailey, besides his pics, records, and royalties on clothes for the 

A guy by the name of Bing Crosby was not doing too badly. 
In 1948 his royalties from records were $650,000 and his radio 
brought in another $650,000, besides his pics, publishing house, 
and his interests in a hundred things from orange juice to gadgets. 

Lefty's Letters 2SS 

The boy can match bankbooks with anyone. Did you know that 
Red Grange (who played vaude), got $47,000 as his share on a 
percentage deal for one game in Los Angeles? The gate was $130,- 
oco gross. Of course, if you wanna call fights entertainment, the 
highest-paid entertainers were pugilists, Dempsey and Tunney were 
tops ? and Joe Louis didn't do so bad either. 

Mae West, Hildegarde, Charlie Chaplin, Bill Hart, George M. 
Cohan, Joe E. Lewis, Jackie Gleason, Abbott & Costello, Judy 
Garland, Betty Hutton, and Olsen & Johnson were all top earners. 
And how about the $70,000 that Martin & Lewis dragged down 
at the Paramount for a week's wages? I could mention many more 
of todays stars like Billy Daniels, Johnny ("Cry") Ray, Frankie 
Laine, Billy Eckstein, etc. But these guys all did it the hard way. To- 
day it all adds up to big grosses, really small "nets," and a lot of hard 

The old-timers made money so much easier. They played to 
people who didn't yell and scream when you mentioned Brooklyn, 
or dance up and down the aisles, or tear you apart for an autograph. 
They were nice respectable audiences, who had reserved seats and 

And when you talk about big dough, there's a kid from vaude 
you just cant leave out; that's Walter Winchell. His $1,352,00x5 
Kaiser-Frazer pay-off for ninety broadcasts, his syndicated column, 
his TV show, and the two-dollar bets he makes on long shots 
makes him one of the top income guys in show biz. Another kid 
by the name of Arthur Godfrey, who is on TV and radio so many 
hours a day he has no chance to spend his dough, also has a very 
neat income. 

But a very funny thing about show biz that me and Aggie have 
seen through the years is that some guy dies who you think never 
earned a dime and leaves a "'bundle," and the guys who made a lot 
of dough may not end up with enough for their lawyers to even 
pay the inheritance tax. 

We hope that none of the present-day stars will ever need a bene- 
fit, and by the looks of their bankbooks, they won't; they worked 
hard (much harder than the old stars) for every penny, without 
the laughs and the ease of the old-timers. 

But me and Aggie say that the little frankfurters we bought at 
Coney Island for five cents tasted much better than the jumbo 


franks they peddle now for fifteen cents and so no matter how 
much dough they have, against Rockefeller they're still bums! 

Your pd 7 


Memories witlt I*auglis 

Dear Joe, 

It's funny how certain things stand out in your mind after years 
have passed, and how you have forgotten other things until you 
start punching the bag about show biz and memories come 
trickling back. This is especially true about things that made you 
laugh. For instance, I remember the time when . . . 

Johnny Stanley, one of Broadway's fine wits and wisecrackers r 
came to rehearsal one Monday morning at Hammerstein's, and had 
George May, the musical director, and his men' rehearse his music 
for half an hour, making them play it over and over again. There 
were many acts waiting to rehearse and finally George said, "All 
right, Johnny, you know we always play your stuff O.K." Johnny 
thanked him and was about to walk away when George looked at 
his list of the show and said, "Say, Johnny r I haven't got you down 
on my list of acts that's on the bill. Are you replacing someone?' 7 
"No," said Johnny, "I ain't working here this week, George, but it's 
been so long since I've worked I just wanted to hear how my music 

The time when Wilton Lackaye was getting over a two-week 
bender. The boys from the Lambs came to visit him in his two- 
room suite. While some of them were talking to him in the bed- 
room, a couple of the boys sneaked in two dwarfs (not midgets- 
dwarfs are deformed), who stripped naked, got up on the large 
table in the sitting room, and held the large bowl of fruit. The 
other boys got the sign that everything was O.K., so said good-by 

Lefty's Letters 258 

to Wilton and left. When Lackaye got up a short time later to go 
to the bathroom and saw the Baked dwarfs holding the dish of 
fruit he blinked, let out a yell, and staggered back to the bedroom. 
The boys, who were waiting outside, rushed in and asked what was 
the matter? Lackaye told them that he was getting the D.T.s, that 
he saw naked dwarfs holding a fruit dish. By now, the dwarfs had 
dressed and sneaked out, and Lackaye was led out to the sitting 
room and shown that there was nothing there. He blinked again, 
took a couple of drinks, and went off on a fresh bender. When the 
boys told him later what they did, he thought they were kidding. 
He never believed them I 

The time Luke Barnett, the king of ribbers, was introduced to 
Jack Lait, the noted editor and playwright, at the Friars Club. Jack 
was told that Luke was a Polish millionaire who owned coal mines 
and was looking for a play for his stage-struck son. "I hear you are 
a writer of plays, Mr. Lit/ 7 said Luke in his rich Polish dialect. 
"Yes, I write plays/' said Jack modestly. "Well, I will give you a 
check for $25,000 in advance if you will write a play for my boy." 
Jack's eyes almost popped, and he started "selling" Luke an idea. 
Luke was very interested. Jack ordered drinks, Luke ordered drinks, 
Jack wove a beautiful plot right in front of Luke's eyes ? he was 
entranced, took out his checkbook, made out a check, misspelled 
Jack's name 7 tore it up, and started on another one (some more 
drinks). Lait was pouring it on, but whenever Luke was about to 
sign the check, he raised some kind of an argument about the play's 
plot and in a drunken rage tore up the check. He was cooled down 
again and Lait again started "selling" him the show. Again the 
check business, again a fit of rage and he tore it up. This kept up all 
night. Jack was sweating plenty, and nobody laughed louder than 
Jack did when he was finally told that it was a rib. 

The time when Jimmy Hussey (that lovable comic) was intro- 
duced to Louis Mann, by George ML Cohan, as Paul Keith, the 
owner of the Keith Circuit. Mann had just signed for a short 
route on the Keith Circuit and was delighted to meet the great 
Mr. Keith. During the drinking and talking Jimmy Hussey (as 
Paul Keith) asked Louis to show him his route. Louis did this and 
Jimmy started fixing it up. "Instead of one week in Boston, I want 
you there for two weeks, Louis, I'm up there a lot and we'll have a 
nice time." And looking at the route he switched a week here and 
there, because it was too big a jump, etc,, and when he finished 


Louis Mann had the sweetest route ever given to anybody; and to 
finish it off, Jimmy whispered to Louis that he would see that he 
got a better salary. Even Louis bought a round of drinks! He never 
knew until the next day when he went to the office (to get his new 
route) that it all was a rib. Hussey ducked Mann for months. It 
took Louis that long to cool off. 

The time when some clown nailed a dead fish to the bottom of 
the table in the dining room of the old Comedy Club. For days 
everybody tried to find out where the terrible odor came from. 
They opened all the windows and even stopped sitting with certain 

The time Charlie Judels, during World War I, dressed like a 
French sailor and, surrounded by high-ranking French officers who 
were here on a mission, and many of the Lambs, attended a cere- 
mony on the steps of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue 
and Forty-second Street. Judels made a speech in "French/' the 
officers applauded him, and many bonds were sold. When they all 
got back to the Lambs, someone asked the Frenchmen did they 
understand Judels? They said just partly because he came from a 
different part of France than they did, but they understood enough 
to know it was a fine speech. No one ever told them that Charlie 
was doing "double talk/* He never spoke a word of French in his 

The time when Will Rogers, at a dinner given by the Jewish 
Theatrical Guild to Eddie Cantor, made a speech in pure Yiddish 
for twenty minutes, then translated it. It was a riot. (Must have 
taken him a month to learn.) 

The time when Bert Fitzgibbons' brand-new shoes hurt so much 
that he took them off while standing against Mark Aaron's bar 
next door to the Palace. Morris, the call boy, came in to tell him 
he would be on in a few minutes. Bert tried to put his shoes on, 
but his feet were swollen. So Bert took his shoes in hand, went on 
the stage in his stocking feet, and did a lo-minute monologue about 
swollen feet and new shoes. Big laughs! 

Tommy Dugan (Dugan & Raymond), the greatest of all dead- 
pan comics, would go into a picture show and read the titles out 
loud, being shushed by everybody, and things would end up in 
almost a riot when he argued that he couldn't read to himself, he 
had to read out loud to understand what the picture meant, he was 

Lefty's Letters 280 

an American citizen, paid for his ticket, etc. etc. He always finished 
up by getting his money back from the management. 

Sid Grauman was a great practical joker. He once filled a softly 
lighted room with wax figures and had a certain film exec speak to 
them about censorship, telling him they were representative censors 
of the different states. The man never got wise until one wax figure 
happened to fall over. 

You would never believe me if I told you the names of the real 
big guys in show biz who fell for "the trainman's daughter' 7 ! It was 
usually worked from Wolpin's and Lindy's restaurants. The gag 
was to tell the u fall guy" about a beautiful gal on the West Side, 
who was the daughter of a trainman who worked nights. All you 
had to do was to bring her a strawberry pie (or any messy pie in 
season) and you'd have a date. It was all done in an offhand 
manner by expert ribbers. The victim would buy the pie, which 
was carried by his guide, and would be taken to a certain tenement 
on the West side that had small gas lights in the halls. As they got 
to the top floor, he would call ''Anna. Anna/' At this moment one 
of the boys planted on the top floor would look over the banister 
and yell, "So you are the So-and-Sos who are ruining my Anna! I'll 
kill you!" With that he would throw an old electric bulb, which 
would explode and sound like a shot from a gun. By now both 
guys were racing down the steps, and the guide would manage in 
the excitement to throw the gooey pie into the victim's face, and 
as they ran up the street, the fellows in on the gag, who were 
hidden in doorways, would keep throwing bulbs. Both guys would 
run back to Wolpin's or Lindy's with the victim scared to death 
and the victim's face covered with pie! When I tell you that a 
"smarty" like the late Wilson Mizner (the wisest of all wise guys) 
went for this, you can imagine how the other un-smarties went for 
it. It got so bad that the police of the West Forty-seventh Street 
station gave orders to quit it. (They were in on it for years and 
got many a laugh out of the gag.) 

The time when Arthur Caeser (a Pulitzer Prize winner for his 
one-act play, "Napoleon's Barber") got the number of a phone in 
the hall of a tenement in the Bronx. He called and asked for Mr. 
Cohen (the building maybe had a half a dozen) and told him that 
the musicians he ordered for the party would be a little late, but 
not to worry. Mr. Cohen said angrily that he didn't order any musi- 
cians, he had no party, and anyway it was 9 P.M. and everybody was 


asleep, and he had to get up early, so please stop "boddering" him. 
Fifteen minutes later Arthur called again and apologized, saying he 
had made a mistake in the address but as long as the musicians 
were on their way the union rules demanded that they had to play 
where they were sent even if it was just for half an hour, so they 
could prove they worked. By now Mr. Cohen was raving, saying 
that this was a respectable house, they would wake everybody up, 
he wouldn't let them play, he'd call the police, etc. Now Arthur got 
a bit angry, and his argument was, "You're a union man? You 
won't let other union men make a living? It won't cost you a penny, 
I tell you. They should be there any minute. Please like a good 
fellow let them play." Some time later he called Mr. Cohen again 
and told him it was all a mistake, the musicians got to the right 
place, not to worry, etc., etc., way into the night. You just can't 
write those things, but me and Aggie sure laugh when we even 
think of that night! 

Johnny Johnston was told not to let Little Billy (a midget) leave 
the Friars to join a party that was being given that night, because 
Billy needed his rest, as he was to open the next day. Johnny sta- 
tioned himself outside the door of the Friars. One of the boys put 
Little Billy over his arm, threw an overcoat over him and walked 
past Johnston. He never could figure how Little Billy got out! 

The time George M. Cohan and Willie Collier cut cards (strip- 
pers) for $1,000 a cut. (They did this to rib Louis Mann.) In a 
few hours Collier had won $100,000 in cash and also two of 
Cohan's theaters. Everybody was looking on, all hep that it was a 
rib, but Louis figured Cohan was drunk and didn't realize what he 
was doing. He pleaded with Cohan to stop and told Collier what 
he thought of him, taking advantage of Cohan's condition, etc. 
When Collier finally said to Cohan, "Listen, George, 111 give you a 
chance to get even. I will now play you one cut of the cards for 
Sam Harris" (Cohan's partner), it was then that Louis Mann 
tumbled it was a rib! 

The time in Atlantic City when Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes 
were breaking in a young piano player, Dave Stamper (later a 
noted composer, who wrote the music for many Ziegfeld Follies). 
Norworth told Stamper he didn't look very good as a straight piano 
player, and it would be a novelty if he made up like a Jap, and 
proceeded to teach him how to make up for it. He bought a load 
of make-up and Stamper started to make up at 10 A.M. and every 

Lefty's Letters 262 

time he would put a make-up on, Jack would say, "Nope, try it 
again." By matinee time Dave's face was raw. During the week 
newspapermen would ask for an interview with the little Jap piano 
player (only one of his kind), and Jack would say, "He just left 
the theater." Dave was standing there all the time. 

Another time when Jack and Dave would cut cards in the dress- 
ing room for ten cents a cut. Jack (a very good amateur magician) 
was using a strip deck, and before Dave knew it, he owed Jack 
$2,500. He became panicky, He was only getting about $100 a week 
and had a family to support. He would double the bets, figuring he 
had to win sometime and so would get even. Week after week this 
kept on, until finally Jack told him he would give him a chance to 
get even. They would cut for the high card for the money Dave 
owed against Dave taking out Nora Bayes* two dogs every morning, 
noon, and evening for the rest of the season (which Jack was 
doing) . Dave grabbed at the chance, they cut the cards and Dave 
took the dogs out for the rest of the season and never found out 
about the strip deck until the end of the season. Norworth would 
spend hundreds of dollars to put a gag over. 

The time a gag didn't turn out so funny. I thought it was a cruel 
idea, and was done thoughtlessly. Ward & Yokes were starring in 
their own show, and there was a member of the company who was 
a pretty tight guy with a buck. After the show he would go and 
buy a drink for himself and never treat anybody. Hap Ward 
claimed he could get him to buy drinks for everybody in the com- 
pany. The whole company bet him he couldn't (unbeknownst to 
the victim, of course) . W. & V. spent almost $500 to have fake lot- 
tery tickets and a result sheet printed. Everybody bought a ticket, 
including the ''sucker," who got a "certain" ticket. After a month 
Hap announced that he had received the result sheet, and every- 
body checked their tickets with him and nobody won. When the 
victim came in the saloon that night for his regular glass of beer, 
Hap told him that nobody in the company had hit the winning 
ticket. "By the way, you have a ticket. What's the number?" The 
man dug in his grouch bag and brought out his ticket. Hap checked 
it with the sheet and yelled, "You won! You won $25,000!" The 
guy almost fainted. He ordered champagne for everybody (he had 
to be talked into it, but finally came through), but they couldn't 
drink the grape when he said, "The first thing I got to do is to call 
up my brother in New York and tell him he doesn't have to worry 


any more. He can have that operation that may save his life." 
Ward & Yokes paid the tab! That's one time there was no laugh 

The time an actor found a large bone near the stage door, and 
for a gag brought it in the dressing room and with another actor 
decided to play a joke on Sim Collins (Collins & Hart). On the 
last night, they opened Sim's trunk (had a key made) and put the 
bone at the bottom of it. When Sim came off the stage, he threw 
his clothes in the trunk, locked it, and soon it was on its way to the 
next stand. When he opened the trunk and got his stuff out, he 
was surprised to see the large bone, and couldn't figure out how it 
got there. He threw it in the wastebasket. The actors quickly 
recovered it, hid it until pack-up night, and again put it in Sim's 
trunk. Again Sim was surprised to find the bone. This time he 
threw it out in the alley, where it was recovered by the boys, and 
the same routine repeated. When Sim found it in the next town, 
he wrapped it in paper, took a long walk into the country (followed 
by the actors), and finally threw it away in a field. Again it was 
recovered and stuck in his trunk. At the next stand, he was smiling 
when he opened the trunk, by now figuring it was some kind of a 
gag but he had outfoxed 'em and let out a yell when he again 
found the bone in the trunk! He had the janitor put it in the 
furnace and stood there watching it burn to ashes! The next week 
he found in his trunk a tiny chicken bone! 

The time Bert Swor, the great minstrel, and his brother John 
were practically stranded in Chicago and had just about enough 
dough to get back to New York by buying cut-rate tickets. In those 
days you could buy these cut-rate tickets in almost every big city. 
People would buy a round trip for only a few more bucks than a 
one-way fare and sell the return stub to "specs" who made a busi- 
ness of it, and so make a little profit on their trip. The railroad 
people tried to stop this practice by making the purchaser sign his 
name on the ticket and, when using the return stub, sign it again in 
front of the conductor, who would compare the signatures, and if 
it wasn't satisfactory, you were out of luck. The smart guys, when 
buying the tickets originally, would sign a simple name like Joe 
Smith and write their name very plainly (that was an easy ticket to 
sell to specs). But some really signed their own names and these 
of course sold for much less to the specs and to the final purchaser. 
The Swor brothers bought two tickets, one signed Joe Jones, the 

Lefty's Letters 264 

other Uli Soferkauefsky! John practiced writing Joe Jones and did 
swell, but Bert had a tough time trying to even read Soferkauefsky, 
let alone write it He told John to get on the train and not to 
worry about him. 

Bert got a quart of liquor, sprinkled some of it (very little) on his 
clothes, and took a couple of good internal swigs. He made himself 
very objectionable to the passengers, acting very drunk. When the 
conductor asked him for his ticket, he told him he had already given 
it to him. The conductor, realizing his condition, told him to look 
through his pockets and he was sure he'd find it, and he'd come 
back for it. Bert kept mumbling to the other passengers that he 
gave the conductor his ticket. Again the conductor came back and 
again got an argument from Bert, who Lad a real Southern accent, 
but was trying to talk like a Russian or Polack, figuring Soferkauef- 
sky certainly wasn't a Southerner! The conductor insisted he look 
through his pockets, which he did, dropping a lot of stuff, which 
the conductor kept picking up. Finally, after a thorough search, 
he said, "Maybe you have it in your valise?" The valise was opened 
and dirty laundry etc. thrown all over the floor of the car, and the 
conductor finally spied the ticket. "See, there it is. You didn't give 
it to me." Then followed a crying apology by Bert, weeping all 
over the conductor, who by now was disgusted with the whole 
business. He took out his pen and asked Bert to sign his name on 
the ticket. Bert made a few stabs at it, shaking the pen and getting 
ink on the conductor's trousers. By now the conductor was fit to be 
tied, and, angrily grabbing the pen, said, "Never mind!" and 
signed the ticket himself! That is how Bert got to New York! (Oh, 
by the way, he used up the rest of the quart when it was all over.) 

The time when the great "nut" comic, Ted Healey, had a couple 
of his friends visit him in his hotel room to help him split a fifth 
in three parts. One of the boys dropped a lighted cigarette in a big 
armchair and set fire to it. They managed to put out the blaze, but 
the chair was ruined. Ted realized the hotel would charge him for 
the damage, and at that time he didn't even have enough to pay 
the rent, much less pay for the damage. He borrowed a saw 
from the hotel porter, cut up the chair in three parts, got paper and 
twine, made a bundle of each piece, and each of the boys carried 
out a bundle. The management never could figure out how a big 
chair could disappear from the room, when the housekeeper re- 
ported it missing. They couldn't charge him for it, because he 


claimed there never had been a chair in the room. What could 
they do about it? Nothing! That's just what they did! 

There were lots of laughs in those days. They don't have 'em 
anymore. (Every old guy that thumbs his memory says that.) SEZ 

'Your pal, 


Grapes of Laughter 

Dear Joe, 

Vaudeville had many "heisters," "nose-pain ters, n and users of 
liquid groceries. They were not ordinary drunks, because these men 
were funny and witty even in their cups! They were admired for 
their ready wit even by "spigot-bigots!" Most of them are gone, but 
their escapades, stories, and wit have been preserved for us in 
alcohol I 

These lost week-enders had many excuses for drinking the "silly- 
milk" and "sentimental water." Some drank because they were a 
hit, or because they were a flop. Some because they were lonesome, 
or because they were with a lot of good company. Others because 
they were broke, or because they had plenty of money. Some be- 
cause of family troubles, or because they had no family to make 
trouble. And many drank without an excuse! 

Me and Aggie mention their names in reverence, because through 
the years they gave us more laughs drunk than many of the sober 
people we met. Many of them reformed, and became unfunny! 

James Thornton, the great wit, monologist, and song writer, had 
more stories told about him than even the famous Duffy & 
Sweeney! In his vaude career he often capitalized on his alcoholic 
rep. His first wife, Bonnie, is nearly always coupled with stories 
told about him, because all through their long married life she 
tried to keep James away from the liquor and the liquor away from 
Jim. Kate, his widow, a great gal and a fine performer (originally 

Lefty's Letters ZSB 

introduced Jim to Bonnie), practically inherited a sober Jim. 
Bonnie once locked Jim in their hotel room while she went out 
shopping so he wouldn't be able to go out for any liquor, Jim got 
the bellboy on the phone and ordered a pint of liquor and two 
straws. He had the bellboy insert the straws through the old- 
fashioned large keyhole, and Jim sipped the pint through the straws 
while the bellboy held the bottle outside the locked door. 

Another time, when Bonnie left orders with the clerk not to 
serve Jim any liquor, Jim called the bellboy and, keeping the door 
just a bit ajar, spoke to an imaginary guest in the room. "What 
will you have, Harry? Rye? Fine. I'm on the wagon I'll just take a 
lemonade." Turning to the bellboy, "My friend wants a rye and 
111 have a lemonade/' This order was repeated a dozen times dur- 
ing the afternoon, and when Bonnie came back she found Jim 
passed out and a dozen untouched lemonades on the dresser. 

Someone once asked Jim why he was always stewed (which he 
wasn't), "I like the idea of being drunk continuously. It eliminates 

One of the classic Thornton stories is the one about the time he 
and his drinking companion, George C. Davis (who was also a fine 
monologist), were on a two-week bender and ran out of funds. 
While Jim always remained immaculate during a spree, George 
was exactly the opposite; after a few drinks he looked as if he had 
rolled in the gutter (which he often had). So you can imagine 
how he looked after two weeks, unshaven, filthy clothes and linen, 
etc. They were walking along Broadway and Jim asked a friend to 
loan him two dollars. The friend, seeing Jim's condition, said no. 
"Make it one dollar," pleaded Jim. "No," said the friend once 
again. 'Then how about a quarter?" insisted Jim, This time the 
friend practically shouted no. "Is that final?" asked Jim. "It cer- 
tainly is," said the friend. Jirn slowly turned to George and in his 
low-down solemn tones said, "George, throw a louse on himl" 

Just a few years before he passed on he said, "I'm not drinking 
any more. I figure I have established a high average and I wouldn't 
advise anybody to try to tie it!" 

Next to Jim Thornton, there have been the most stories told 
about James Terence Duffy and Fredrick Chase Sweeney. They 
jvere both good performers and had a wonderful sense of burlesque 
and satire. Duffy was a good writer and Sweeney was a good rider 
(he started as a bicycle rider) . I remember the time Duffy got into 


an argument with a Chicago gangster. He was taken aside by a 
mutual friend, who told him, "Jimmy, be careful, he is a gangster 
and gets very nasty when he gets a few drinks under his belt." "Yeh, 
I know/ 7 mumbled Jimmy, "but I don't have to worry. He's wear- 
ing suspenders tonight! 7 ' Another time, when Jimmy (a devout 
Catholic) was just getting over a four-dayer, he said, "Fm so 
nervous I could throw pool balls at the Pope!" 

Once when Jimmy and Sweeney had been up against the bar for 
about six straight hours, Sweeney suddenly fell flat on his face 
and laid there. Duffy turned to the bartender and said, "That's 
one thing about Sweeney, he knows when to stop!" They tell about 
the time Jimmy met E. F. Albee, the head of the Keith office (who 
liked Jimmy). Albee looked at Duffy and said, "Drunk again, 
Jimmy. After promising me you wouldn't drink any more and after 
you took the pledge too!" Jimmy looked at him with bloodshot 
eyes and said, "Are you sorry to see me in this condition, Mr. 
Albee?" "Yes, I am sorry," said Mr. Albee. "Are you sure you're 
very sorry, Mr. Albee?" "Yes, very sorry, Jimmy," said Mr. Albee. 
"Well, if you're very very very sorry III forgive you!" said Jimmy, 
and slowly staggered away. Another story about Duffy and Sweeney 
was about the time they played in New Orleans and were a terrible 
flop. At the finish of the act, Duffy made the following speech, 
"Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to thank you all for the way you've 
received our act. And to show you our appreciation, I will now 
have Mr. Sweeney pass amongst you with a baseball bat and beat 
the begeezes out of you!" 

Maurice Barrymore was another honorary member of the liquid 
fraternity. One day while standing at the bar at the Lambs, a cer- 
tain member said, "Hello, Mr. Barrymore, don't you know me?" 
"I didn't at first," said Barrymore, "but when you didn't buy, I 
knew you right away!" He once said, "Staggering is a sign of 
strength. Weak men are carried home!" Coming back from a tour, 
he told the boys at the Lambs that he was arrested in Kentucky for 
violation of the liquor law. "I refused to take a drink!" And when 
he was getting over one of his periodicals, a friend asked him did 
he want a doctor? "No, I want a snake charmerl" 

His son Jack also staggered in his father's footsteps. He once 
promised his manager he wouldn't take a drink on the whole tour. 
The next day he came to the theater with a cute bun on. "I 
thought you promised me you wouldn't drink/' said the disaj> 

Lefty's Letters 2S8 

pointed manager. 'Well, I had to cash a check and had to go 
where they knew me/ 7 said Jack. Someone remarked to Jack one 
night, "You are too great an artist to be drinking all the time." 
"Are you a reformed drunkard?" asked Jack. "No, I'm not," said 
the gentleman. 'Then why don't you reform?" asked Jack. 

In the old days when alcoholics were sent to Bellevue Hospital 
to sober up, someone asked William Anthony McGuire, the famous 
playwright (who was quite a heister in his time) if he had ever 
met James Thornton? "Oh, yes/' said Bill, "We were in stock to- 
gether at Bellevue!" 

Willard Mack, the famous actor-playwright, took his liquor 
where he found it and they usually found him where he took his 
liquor. One time at Billy LaHifFs Tavern he got a bad case of 
hiccoughs. LaHiff advised Mack to eat some bread crumbs to stop 
the hiccoughs. "Nope," said Bill, shaking his head, "I don't like to 

Big James J. Morton was a great lover of the grape and he and 
Gene Hughes, the agent, were buddies. They both weighed over 
250 pounds and could (and did) finish a couple of cases of cham- 
pagne at a sitting. One day at the Comedy Club, Jim was telling 
us a session he and Gene Hughes had had the night before. "I got 
Gene so drunk that it took two bellboys to put me to bed!" He 
would speak about bartenders reverently. "They are fine gentle- 
men. They moisten the thirsty!" Big Jim was against Mark Aaron's 
bar (next to the Palace) with Tommy Gray, a good writer and a 
fine wit. After a few hours, when they were ready to leave, Tommy 
stepped away from the bar and fell. "Come over here, Jim, and 
pick me up/* pleaded Tommy. Big Jim turned around, looked at 
Tommy on the floor, and said, "No flattery among friends, old 

In all the years I knew William Collier I never saw him intoxi- 
cated! I've often seen him have a bit of an edge on, but that's all, 
and IVe seen him outdrink many a veteran. As you know, he was 
the fastest guy on the ad lib in the business. During prohibition a 
member of the Lambs who had some family trouble was trying to 
drown it by drinking up in Bill's room. He soon got one of those 
crying jags on and said, "Nobody cares if I drink myself to death, 
Bill/' And Bill quickly answered, "I do. You're drinking my 



Walter C. Kelly, "The Virginia Judge," after a big night with the 
boys at the Friars, went to his room and called the clerk, saying, 
"Wake me up at ten." "It is ten now, Mr. Kelly/ 7 said the clerk. 
"Then wake me!" muttered Kelly. 

Bert Leslie, the king of slang, who could handle a bottle with 
the best of them, once was asked by a friend at the White Rat's 
Club to sit down and have some tea. "I never touch it," said Bert, 
"it makes me weakl" 

Walter Catlett, one of our really great comedians, was talking 
with some friends about the Men's Bar at the Waldorf, and some- 
one remarked that they w r ere thinking of opening a Women's Bar. 
Catlett looked over his glasses and said, "What are they going to 
serve, Lydia Pinkham on draft?" I asked him once, "How about 
walking around the corner and having a drink, Walter?" He said, 
"I have a better idea. Let's runi" 

Bert Fitzgibbons (one of the best of the "nut" comics) was at a 
bar pouring himself a drink into a water glass. "Say, Bert, that's 
whisky you're pouring, not water!" said the bartender. Bert squinted 
his eyes and said, "Do I look like a man that would drink that 
much water?" 

Someone told Harry Hershfield, about a certain actor who had 
been a quart-a-day man, that the guy had quit drinking. Hershfield 
said, "Yeh, I know. You see, when he got drunk he started buying, 
so he quit drinking!" 

Henry E. Dixie, one of America's great actors, liked his liquor 
straight and disliked mixed drinks. He once said, "The continual 
use of ice cubes in drinks will develop a race of people with black 
and blue upper lips!" When a busybody once asked Dixie why he 
drank, he answered, "When I drink, I think, and when I think, I 

Old Sam Morton (The Four Mortons) was playing at Hammer- 
stein's on the same bill with Rajah, the snake dancer. He was stand- 
ing in the wings with Mike Simon, the stage manager, when Mike 
said, "Isn't she afraid the snake will bite her?" "No," said Sam, 
"She ain't afraid of the snake biting her, she's worried of it hissing 
herl" It was Sam who once said, "Too much of anything is not 
good, but too much whisky is just enough!" There was an old 
German by the name of Schmidt who owned a saloon next to 
Keith's Union Square, on East Fourteenth Street. One time he was 

Lefty's Letters 2 

trying to get Sam to stop drinking liquor and drink beer instead. 
Sam asked him, "What's the difference?" To which old Schmidt 
replied in his thick German dialect, "Visky makes you kill some- 
hot}* else, but mitt beer you only kill yourself!" 

At a Christmas party at the Lambs, they were serving some 
liquid refreshment from a large bowl. Benjamin Hapgood Burt 
(the brilliant lyricist of many Broadway shows) asked me what it 
was. I said, "Punch!" "Well," said Ben, "let's punch it!" He was 
a great Lamb, but when in his cups a few of the members tried to 
duck him (and his sharp wit). One night when Burt was feeling 
his oats (or I should say rye), he looked around an almost empty 
room for someone to talk to. He spied Wilton Lackaye, who had 
as his guest the famous sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. Burt staggered 
over to the table and hung around until Lackaye just had to intro- 
duce him to his guest. "Burt, I want you to meet the famous 
sculptor, Gutzon Borglum." "Who?" asked Burt. Lackaye had to 
repeat the name to make Burt understand. "It's Borglum, Borgluin, 
Borglum." Finally Burt, shaking his head, said, "It sounds to me 
like the breaking of wind in a bathtub!" 

Someone was boasting to Walter Catlett how much he could 
drink. "Why, I drink a quart a day!" Catlett gave him a look and 
said, "Why, I spill that much!" 

Ring Lardner was on his famous three-day toot at the Lambs. 
He sat at one table all this time, just getting up once in a while to 
go to the men's room. A certain member who had wild-looking 
long hair kept passing his table looking at him. Ring blinked his 
large owl eyes, called the man over, and said, "Would you please 
tell me how you look when I am sober?" 

Big Charlie Wagner, the bartender at the Friars for many years, 
served a member a drink with, "This is ten-year-old stuff, so don't 
be afraid of it." The man looked at the bottle, and said, "Why 
Charlie, that bottle is marked two years old and you said it was ten 
years old/' "Well/' shrugged Charlie, "it took me eight years to 
sell it!" 

I remember the time George M. Cohan, after a pretty rough 
night with the boys, came in the next day and someone asked him 
how he felt. "Oh, I'm all right. I got up this morning and drank 
my bath!" 

During the war, a very heavy drinker came to the bar at the 


Lambs and announced that he had just come from the blood bank 
where he had contributed his blood. Charles O'Brien Kennedy, 
the actor-poet, remarked, "What are they going to use it for, 
sterilizing their instruments?" 

But my favorite story is about my old friend Richard Carle, who 
was a famous star of musical comedy, vaude, and pictures, Wilton 
Lackaye, one of the great stars of legit and vaude, and Tom Terris, 
a fine actor who was a headliner with his sketch, "Scrooge," in 
vaude, and is the only survivor of the King Tut Tomb expedition, 
every one of whom met an untimely death. Tom lost an eye. 

It was a dismal Sunday afternoon on a real hot summer day at 
the Lambs, which was deserted except for these three gentlemen. 
They had no air conditioning those days, only a rotating fan at 
the end of the bar. There were a few dim amber lights to make it 
look cool. Wilton Lackaye was at one end of the bar facing the 
rotating electric fan, Tom Terns at the other end of the bar, when 
Dick Carle, starting on a bender, came in and asked Mike the 
bartender for a scotch and soda. He was served, and after another 
one, started to look around. He saw Lackaye (who did not like to 
be disturbed when drinking) facing the fan. As everybody knows, 
Lackaye wore a heavy toupee, and, because of the heat, the glue on 
it had loosened up so that when the breeze from the rotating fan 
would hit it, it would raise about half an inch, and as the breeze 
passed the toupee would go back in place. Carle couldn't believe 
his eyes and watched the toupee with fascination. He kept ordering 
scotch and sodas and glancing sideways at Lackaye's hair still going 
up and down, feeling that he was getting a bit drunk and maybe 
was imagining this. 

Finally, after a few more scotch and sodas, lie turned his face 
away from Lackaye and looked at Tom Terris, who was standing 
next to him. Tom had a glass eye to replace the one he lost while 
on the King Tut Expedition. Dick looked at the eye, then looked 
closer, and saw a fly walking around the eyel By now Dick thought 
he was on the D.T. train, so gulped his drink and yelled, "Let me 
out of here." It so happened that at this time the Hippodrome 
(at Forty-fourth Street and Sixth Avenue) was just through with 
the matinee and the Singer Midgets, who were playing there, were 
going to RosofFs Restaurant, which was a few doors past the 
Lambs. When Dick Carle came out of the door of the Lambs, he 

Lefty's Letters 272 

saw forty midgets. He took one look and yelled to a taxi driver, 
"Quick, driver, get me to Bellevuei" 

""A grand lot of Merry Andrews who drank their liquor "straight" 
and used "laughs" as chasers! SEZ 

Your pal, 


Dear Joe, 

There has been so much written and said about the Cherry 
Sisters that I thought me and Aggie should add our bit. 

They were like the sterling mark on silver, only different in 
show biz the Cherry Sisters meant lousy! 

Known as the "vegetable twins/' Effie and Addie played Harn- 
merstein's Olympia (where the Bond Clothing Company now 
stands) on Broadway in 1896. They played behind a net for eight 
weeks at $500 per and that "direct from Broadway" billing kept 
them going for years in smaller towns. The idea of playing behind 
a net to encourage the audience to throw vegeables at the actors 
wasn't new. In the 18705 Shakespearian actors (?) like James Owen 
O'Connor, Count Johannes, and Dr. Landis hammed it with 
Hamlet (all worked behind a screen) and got rich from the box 
office. Many came just to try out their pitching arms with eggs 
and vegetables. It was Oscar, not Willie Hammerstein, who got the 
idea of using a screen in front of these gals. The papers said they 
were "so bad they were good." Years later Billy Rose tried to bring 
back the idea at the Casino de Paree during the time we had 
Prohibition, and it died. His ads read, "Sunday Nite Amateur 
Nite. Come and throw vegetables at actors!" A few drunks threw 
ice cubes and almost blinded the performers. (They were not 
amateurs but hired for the occasion and didn't know about the ads 
inviting the audience to throw things.) It was a terrific flop, not 
funny, but very sad! 


One of the stories the Cherry Sisters told about why vegetables 
were heaved at ? em was that It was started by managers who tried 
to "make 'em/' To get the angle of how funny that is, I must tell 
you what kind of an act they did. There were originally five Cherry 
Sisters, who appeared in their home town of Marion, Iowa, in a 
sketch with songs called "The Gypsy's Warning!" The girls 
wanted to visit the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, an ^ to ra * se ^ e 
coin, they hired Green's Opera House, Cedar Rapids, to stage their 
show. The audiences made funny noises (long before the official 
raspberry) but the performance went on. 

When they saw the notice In the morning paper they sued for 
libel. The case was heard in the theater, and after the judge saw 
"The Gypsy's Warning" he gave the verdict to the newspaper. 
Eventually deaths cut down the act to a duo, Addle and Effie. But 
they worked as a trio for some time. 

Addie and Effie did Salvation Army girls. They were tall and 
thin, while Jessie was short and plump. They wore drum major 
costumes and sang about themselves to the tune of "Ta-ra-ra-Boom- 
dee-ay. n They had voices like the rattle of an empty coal scuttle. 
'Tor Fair Columbia" was sung by Jessie, the composer. A ballad, 
"My Daddy and Mama Were Irish," composed by Lizzie (the 
absent one), was sung by Addie and Effie in calico gowns, white 
aprons, and straw hats. Jessie then sang "The Bicycle Ride." Next 
Effie came on wearing a pair of gray trousers, Prince Albert coat, 
high hat, and small mustache and carrying a grip, and sang "The 
Traveling Man." Other numbers were "Corn Juice" by Jessie, and 
"Gypsy Warning" by Addie, Effie, and Jessie. And they finished 
with a tableaux, "Clinging to the Cross," and for an encore, "The 
Goddess of Liberty." 

Now that just gives you an idea of the act. When the audience 
got noisy, it was nothing for Addie to walk to the footlights and 
say, "If you don't keep quiet we will ring down the curtain; we 
ain't desirous to sing here tonight, no how." 

They changed their act at times; Effie also sang, "She Was My 
Sister and Oh, How I Missed Her." And she talked about every- 
thing from Prohibition to the Equity Strike. (This was on their 
"comeback.") They wanted to clean up the stage and to close 
theaters on Sundays. They didn't dance because they claimed it 
was immoral, so all they did on the stage were recitations and 

Leftfs Letters 274 

They went back to the faun in 1903 (with a boodle). In 1924, 
when the surviving sisters were becoming aged they appeared at 
the Orpheum, Des Moines. Variety covered it as a new act; the 
notice stated in part: 

"Effie and Addie Cherry are the famous Cherry Sisters who 
startled Broadway in the early '905. "Perfectly terrible' was never 
more applicable. As tenibleness, their skit is perfection. . . . Effie 
got in the spotlight recently by being defeated foi Mayor (Cedar 
Rapids) . Effie sings a song, 'She Was My Sister and Oh, How I 
Missed Her/ If it were not for a reputation for being a bad act 
gained thirty years ago, the Cherry Sisters would not get a hearing. 
Effie explains they retired from the stage before on account of the 
war. The reporter took it for granted the recent affair with Germany 
was referred to, but the stagehands are at odds over the question. 
Some insist she meant the Civil War and others say it was the 

The late Chicot writing in his Chicot's Weekly, years before he 
joined Variety, and reviewing the Cherry Sisters' first showing on 
Broadway, said, "The Cherry Sisters do not care to be exploited 
as freaks and insist on being treated with due respect. By way of 
material for press notices, they wrote E. D. Price, manager of the 
Pleasure Palace, New York, whom they were soliciting for a book- 
ing, that the terrible pair had been given 'four golden horseshoes' 
in Chicago, and presented with a glass cane handsomely decorated 
with ribbons at St. Louis." (Shades of Lou Holtz.) 

"If arrangements could be made," continued the vitriolic Chicot, 
"I should be glad to present them with a horseshoe attached to the 
business end of an able-bodied and hard-working jackass." 

You remember, Joe, what you told me about when you had your 
"Memory Lane" act at the Chicago Theatre and Effie and Addie 
came to see you. Two old gals with baggy skirts introduced them- 
selves as the Great Cherry Sisters and said they would join your 
"Memory Lane" act (which featured some real great names) if 
they were billed "in lights" as the headliners of the act. I think 
that you stated, "Let me think it over; I'll call you, don't you call 

In 1908, when Variety panned the gals, they replied with a 
steaming hot letter which Variety printed: 

"In your issue of March 21, you had an article *which was one 
of the most malicious, violent and untruthful writings we have 


ever read. The person who wrote it is not deserving the name of a 
man, but is instead a contemptible cur. You said in your paper 
that we advertised ourselves 'the worst show on earth/ which makes 
you a liar, point blank. We have always advertised ourselves as one 
of the best, and we would not be far from the truth if we said the 
best. . . . Although we have the best act in vaudeville and are the 
best drawing cards on the stage, we have no swelled heads, as some 
others have. We have had more knocking since we went into the 
theatrical business than any other act in the history of the world, 
and \ve have come to no other conclusion why this is done except 
that we are not of the character of these unprincipled editors and 
managers who have done the knocking and slandering." 

The girls lived to a ripe old age- I honestly believe that they 
thought they were great! And they were great as the worst act in 

My old friend Bernard H. Sandier, the noted attorney, in re- 
searching some law on a libel suit, came across the following 
decision, which I think will give you a pretty good picture of these 
gals and maybe hand you a laugh, SEZ 

Yoizr pal, 


"In Cherry v. Des Moines Leader (114 Iowa, 298, 86 N.W., 
323) an action brought by one of three public performers call- 
ing themselves "Cherry Sisters" upon the following writing; 
'Effie is an old jade of 50 summers, Jessie a frisky filly of 40, 
and Addie, the flower of the family, a capering monstrosity of 
35. Their long skinny arms, equipped with talons at the ex- 
tremities, swung mechanically, and anon waved frantically at 
the suffering audience. The mouths of their rancid features 
opened like caverns and sounds like the wailings of damned 
souls issued therefrom. They pranced around the stage with a 
motion that suggested a cross between the danse du ventre and 
fox-trotstrange creatures with painted faces and hideous 
mien. Effie is spavined, Addie is string-halt, and Jessie, the 
only one who showed her stockings, has legs with calves as 
classic in their outlines as the curves of a broom handle/ The 
defendant showed that he was not actuated by malice and 
was merely criticizing a coarse public performance and it was 
held proper to direct a verdict against the plaintiff." 

Lefty's Letters 

Three Meals a Day and a Bluff 

Dear Joe, 

When me and Aggie read about the big shots (usually ex- 
van devfllians) of pics, stage, radio, TV, night clubs, oh yeh, and 
records coming to New York and stopping at the swank spots like 
the Waldorf Astoria, Sheny Netherland, Plaza, Gotham, Astor, 
etc., with a suite of rooms and plenty of service, it kinda brings 
back memories of the old vaude days when the actors weren't so 
particular where they "pecked and padded/' The only worry was 
the price, and the price in the old boardinghouses was a buck a 
day for the use of a near-Ostermoor, three meals, and in some 
places even a "bluff/' which meant a sandwich and a bottle of beer 
after the show at night. 

Nearly everybody on the bills stopped at the boardinghouses, 
except maybe some legit headliner who felt his position demanded 
his stopping at the "big" hotel (maybe for two bucks a day) where 
he wasn't wanted and was damn lonesome (unless he could read) . 
The regular acts (even those making good dough) would stop with 
the gang for three reasons: one, so their fellow actors wouldn't 
think they were getting "high hat"; two, because they wanted to 
be with the gang after the show for laughs; and three, the most 
important, it was cheaper! They would always kick and complain 
and make excuses why they weren't stopping at the hotel. Many 
carried a dog, and used it for an excuse: "They wouldn't let us in 
with Trixie, so we came here. If they don't want Trixie, they can't 
have us." Others would say that they stopped at the hotel the last 
time and "the service was lousy," or "They don't let you have 
company in the room after the show," or "There's a lot of old 
fogies there; if you flush the toilet after 10 P.M. some guy com- 
plains you're making noise," or "When me and the wife walk 
through the lobby, you can hear 'em all whispering to each other, 
'I wonder if them actor folks are really married?' " And of course 
the "loyal" guy's excuse, "I stopped with Mom Smith when I first 
started and I wouldn't hurt her feelings stopping at the hotel now 
that I'm a somebody!" 


Out West when playing the Orpheum, Sullivan & Consldine, or 
Pantages Circuits, the boardinghouses and theatrical hotels would 
send out "runners" a week or two ahead to book up the people 
from the show for their rooms. They'd make all kinds of special 
offers (the competition was big). They would first try to get the 
headliner by giving him or her a special rate and the best room in 
the house. This was done because the rest of the bill would usually 
follow the headlinei; it would make them feel they were living as 
good as he was. The boardinghouse keepers would go to any lengths 
to get the troupe. They bribed stagehands, doormen, and managers 
to boost their place to the actors. They even furnished cabs to 
bring them from the depot to their doors before some of the 
opposition could make them change their minds. They had ads 
in the trade papers reading, "Home cooking, good beds, lunch after 
the show, home atmosphere/' and then there would follow a long 
list of well-known performers who had stopped there, all this signed 
by "Mom" Something-or-other. All boardinghouses were run by 
u Moms" or "Mothers/' After living in many of their homes, me 
and Aggie figured most of 'em were stepmothers! 

All the theater dressing-room walls had stickers advertising board- 
ing houses, hotels, and restaurants all over the country. The actors 
would write their personal opinions about the places all around the 
stickers. Here are some of the remarks we saw written on dressing- 
room walls: "Lousy." "Terrible, flies get in the soup." "Do not stop 
here unless you have your mother-in-law with you." "You get pork 
Monday and every day thereafter until Friday, then you get fish and 
soup, and pork goes on the bill again Saturday!" "Stop here, she 
is the manager's aunt, if you don't he'll send in a bad report on 
your act." "This place gives you all the eggs you want but you don't 
want more than one. 77 "Stop here because the stage manager gets a 
rake-off; if you don't your drops won't be hung right." 

These notes acted as a sort of "underground" information bureau 
for actors. They wrote about laundries, managers, actors who stole 
material, stagehands, musicians, agents, and hookers. Some were 
in poetry, some in fine prose, but most of 'em were to the pointl 
If anybody had copied all the "wall tips" he would have had the 
makings of a "Vaudeville Confidential!" It wasn't all panning. 
Some kindly souls would write, "This is a good place to eat/' and 
sign their names. Somebody would write under this, "Since when 
does so-and-so know good food?" and sign his name, to which some 

Lefty's Letters 278 

actor would add, u He may not know good food, but he knows good 
material; lie stole a dozen of my best gags/' and the topper would 
be, "You never had a dozen good gags!' 7 

A gimmick used by most of the boardinghouses was to serve the 
troupe a fine chicken or turkey' dinner on arrival and a fine dinner 
on the last day. In between the food was awful, but Mom figured 
the first dinner kept *em from checking out and the last dinner 
made 'em forget all about the bad "in-be tweenies/' Many of the 
boardinghouses served real good meals. You wouldn't think that it 
would pay Mom to give you food and room for a dollar a day, but 
many retired with a mattress full of dough and a big collection of 
pictures autographed, "To our pa! 7 Mom Smith, better than home/' 
And maybe to many It was! 

The boardinghouses, theatrical hotels, and rooming houses were 
as well known to actors as the swanky hotels were to people who 
could afford them. Of course in the heyday of vaude, when people 
were making dough, they swamped the finest hotels, and the finest 
hotels began catering to them, some even giving a special rate to 
the profession, because they found it was a good advertisement for 
the place to house celebrities. But I am talking about the pioneer 
"tents" nearly all of us lived in before the golden pay-offl 

I'll fust try to tell you about the more famous ones. They were 
really fabulous joints! There were Tobin's Flats and Cook's Place 
on East Fourteenth Street, that served continuous breakfasts from 
7 A.M to i P.M., single meals, 25 cents, $5.50 to $6.50 a week. 
(Jolson lived there.) Frank Cook also owned a place on West 
Thirty-ninth Street. Phoebe Cramer bought him out later. They 
mostly catered to foreign acrobats, and you hear the shouts of 
"Allez oop" all through the day. Mountford's was also a great spot 
for acrobats and dog acts. Mrs. Martin's, on West Forty-fourth 
Street, was a nice place. The Edmund's Flats on Eighth Avenue 
between Forty-seventh and Forty-eighth streets on the east 
side of the avenue were furnished apartments, where a lot of mar- 
ried folks and troupes lived; they did their own cooking and many 
a small three-room apartment held five or six people. If they were 
acrobats, they'd sleep three-high! It was O.K. unless the under- 
stander took in boarders. If you had no place to sleep, or needed a 
bite or even a nip, you were sure to find it there among the show 
Mrs. Silvers had a nice rooming house on West Forty-eighth 


Street next door to the fireliouse. Some of the actors living there 
tried to make a deal with the firemen not to answer an alarm until 
noon! The old Palace Hotel on West Forty-fifth Street was where 
Willard Mack & Mar j one Raxnbeau lived long before they became 
stars; William Anthony McGuire and his lovely wife Lulu also 
lived there long before he wrote Kid Boots and many more hits. 
One of the greatest of the real theatrical hotels was the Somerset 
on West Forty-seventh Street next door to the Palace stage door. 
Joe Frieberg was the manager. He was maitre d'hotel at the Astor 
for sixteen years before he leased the Somerset for $125,000 and 
made a profit of over a quarter of a. million in six months. He 
catered to every whim of the actors for many years until the whims 
ran into piles of I.O.U.S and he had to give up the hotel, but he 
left with great memories. He claimed the laughs and enjoyment he 
got all those years were worth more than all the I.O.U.s! He was a 
real great guy who would go for "sad routines" when he knew they 
were phony. It was at the Somerset that Meyer and Ella Gerson 
had a restaurant where they took care of many a broken-down actor 
with a stomach to match. They first started on Broadway with a 
tiny cigar store on Forty-seventh Street and Broadway (right under- 
neath the big Pepsi-Cola sign), then opened Mother Gerson's 
Fudge Shop, which was known from coast to coast by everyone in 
show biz, then the restaurant at the Somerset. It was the clearing- 
house for vaudeville gossip. All the big and small-time bookers 
would lunch there 7 and naturally the actors would "stroll in" to be 
seen, and many a time got a date because of it. "Basil" and Ella 
Gerson and Mother Bartholdi were the tops! 

The Bartholdi Inn, on Forty-fifth Street and Broadway, was the 
greatest of all theatrical hotels in America! Mother Theresa Bar- 
tholdi started with two upper floors of 1546 Broadway in 1899. 
After five years she took over the corner of Forty-fifth Street and 
Broadway and the two adjoining buildings. In 1906 two more 
houses were added on Forty-fifth Street, and the Inn had no 
rooms. She never had more than a ninety-day option on her lease. 
It was all half-soled and heeled and you had to know your way 
to find your room. Rooms were rented by the week, not by the day, 
and had no transients. Madame Bartholdi acted as banker and 
advisor, advanced fares and money to actors, let them run up bills 
into the thousands, and told me she never lost a penny! In 1916 
the Palmer Estate (who owned the buildings), instead of raising 

Lefty's LcifjTS 2M 

her r: a nt as landlords all over the country were doing, reduced her 
rent, Tlicre were many little fires in the place, "because there was 
careless cooking in the rooms, and the throwing of cigarette butts 
out of windows; they set Variety's awning (it was on the first floor) 
on fire so many times that an extinguisher was kept handy at Sirne's 
desk, at all times. The Inn had a real bohemian atmosphere; the 
tables had lighted candles and beer was seived in small glass 

The greats of all branches of show biz stopped there when they 
weren't even near great. Some of the alumni were Pearl White, 
Mack Sennett, Harry Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, Eva 
Tanguay, Nat Wills,' Dorothy Dalton, Tad, Harry Hershfield, Tom 
McNamana, Laurie & Bronson, Polly Moran, and so many many 
more, Polly (Pickens), Madame Bartholdi's daughter, helped her 
mother manage the place and also helped King Baggott and Dell 
Henderson start the Screen Club, which used rooms at the Inn for 
headquarters. Gena CochI was active manager from 1917 to 1920, 
when they had to move to make room for Loew's State Theatre. 
There never were as many laughs on the stage of Loew's State as 
there were in the Bartholdi Inn! 

Polly took over the Princeton Hotel, which at one time was a 
swanky gambling and fancy house. She made it into a great spot 
that aimost had the atmosphere of the Bartholdi. There were a lot 
of hilarious evenings at the Princeton that will long be remem- 
bered. Mother Bartholdi left over a million in cash and real estate 
when she died. Her husband Louis was a sculptor. She had two 
daughters, Edith and Polly. The old man got married again, which 
led to a fight for the estate in 1923. 

There were so many great places where show folks lived. The 
Cadillac (Forty-third Street and Broadway) was first called the 
Barnett House (where Eugene O'Neill was born), then Wallaces, 
and in 1915 became the Cadillac. It was taken over by the Claridge 
Hotel (which opened as Rector's). There were the Remington, 
the Hermitage, and the St, James. The St. Kilda was owned by 
Pauline Cook (an ex-sharpshooting act) and Jennie Jacobs (one of 
the few great lady vaude agents). Mrs. Ehric's place, where the 
Three Keatons made their headquarters, the Hildona Apartments, 
Astor Court, Yandis Court (which Lou Holtz owned long enough 
to make $100,000 profit), Irvington Hall, Henri Court, the Bertha, 


the Adelaide, and the Duplex were all furnished apartments cater- 
ing only to the theatrical profession. 

Philadelphia had some swell hotels, boardinghouses, and room- 
ing houses. Mike Tuller's y where the Four Cohans and many of 
the better acts and burly people lived, charged just a few dollars 
more a week, but set the finest table in the country. There were 
also Mother O'Brien's, Flossie La Van's, Cavanaugh's, the Hurley 
House, Irving House, Zeiss's, St. Cloud, Cook's, and Green's. 
Mother Green was an old circus gal and when the store shows 
were in Philly the freaks would all come to Green's to eat. It wasn't 
very appetizing to have a fat woman on one side of you, a bearded 
lady on the other, and a giant in front of you, but it was damn in- 
teresting. Mother Green would never turn them down. She said, 
"They are my old friends, and somebody 7 s got to feed them." There 
were also the Sylvania, the Vendig, and of course Dad's, where 
everybody would meet on Friday nights after the show in the 
*Teanut Room," where they'd drink beer and eat peanuts; the floor 
w r as knee high in peanut shells. The show folks would entertain 
themselves. I've seen Jack Banymore get up and read the Ten Com- 
mandments from the Bible and have that audience spellbound, and 
when he finished he'd say, "Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you I 
stole this Bible from the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel!" Dad Frazer's 
was a great spot! 

Chicago had its great spots, too. The old Revere House, which 
burned down, the Saratoga, the Grant (run by Leonard Hicks), 
the City Hall Square, and of course the Sherman, with the Byfields 
as hosts, and the Bismarck and Congress hotels, which always 
catered to the profession. 

Baltimore had Keman's, which was owned and run by the owner 
of the Maryland Theatre, Fred Shanberger. The two most popular 
boardinghouses in the country were in Baltimore, Sparrows and 
Mother Howard's. The latter was the originator of "three meals a 
day and a bluff," and if you happened to live there during the 
racing season, she would throw in a tip on a "hot horse." A great 

There were Reilly's in Newark, Smith's in Portland, Oregon, in 
Cleveland the Winston, Olmstead, and the Hollenden. In Wash- 
ington, D.C., there were Mother Schroder 7 s (next to the Casino 
Theatre) and Gus Bucholtz's Occidental, where there was many a 
great poker game in that front suite facing Pennsylvania Avenue. 

Icftfs Letters 282 

TTie Coast had many furnished apartments priced very reason- 
ablv with much better furniture and accommodations than the 
ones back East. We usually played Frisco, Los Angeles, and Oak- 
land for a two-week run, so It woold pay the act to get a furnished 
apartment and get some home cooking for a change, 

But the majority of the actors would go to the Continental 
Hotels in Frisco and Los Angeles, owned by two of the craziest 
guys in the business. They advertised, "We get the stars on the 
way up and on the way down again/ 7 They signed everything, 
"Stanley & Fumess, 5050." They would take turns In managing 
each hotel six months a year. They would turn away commercial 
trade and transients; many a salesman would have loved to live 
there because of all the fun and laughs. It wasn't run like a hotel, 
but like a "fun-house." It was no surprise to have a juggler wait on 
yon (paying off his tab) and maybe juggle a few plates before he 
served yon. Somebody was always playing a joke on some one, and 
Aloysius Shanley was the Instigator of most of them, 

Al Jolson used to stop there when he first played on the S. & C. 
Circuit. Then when he came there for the first time as a star, 
Shanley organized a band to meet him at the station and they 
paraded up Market Street with Jolson leading the parade, and Al 
made them stop outside the St. Francis, where he went in to 
register (it was his gag on Shanley), but came out again and 
marched to the Continental, ordered a half a dozen rooms, where 
he held court In the evenings and then went to sleep at the 
St. Francis. Many acts did that when playing Frisco and L.A. In 
loyalty to those grand guys. They worked up to a chain of seven 
hotels, but when the crash came they lost 'em all except the York- 
shire, In L.A. (but it never had the atmosphere of the Conti- 
nentals). They were together for over thirty years and then for 
business reasons had to split. It was a great loss for show folks. 

Yes, there were boardinghouses and theatrical hotels everyplace 
vaudeville was and vaudeville was everyplace. After the show the 
troupers would gather and play cards, drink a little beer, lie a little 
about how good they were doing, exchange theatrical gossip, and 
have laughs. The rooms, food, and beds weren't much, but young, 
ambitious people don't need much, and the laughs paid off for all 
the shortcomings. Remember, it was only a buck a day for room, 
three meals, and a bluff and laughs! 

The theatrical hotels were much different than the boarding- 


houses. They usually started as first-class hotels; then when the 
neighborhood ran down, the hotels became a bit careless about 
sendee and furnishings. They could afford to give a rate to theat- 
rical people, who were pretty permanent and didn't expect first-class 
service. As long as the hotel let 'em make a little coiee in the room, 
gather in each other's rooms and gab until all hours in the morn- 
ing, play a little cards, sing, do a little nose-painting, play a uke, 
and kept the chambermaids from bothering them until late after- 
noon, they would be satisfied with elevators that developed paraly- 
sis between floors, bellhops who got fresh, and clerks who kept 
asking for room rent. The managers of these hotels understood 
actors and many times entered into the spirit of their fun. Many 
of them would keep the hotel exclusive for the profession, barring 
"towners" and "salesmen." The clerks, bellhops, chambermaids, 
and porters all knew and spoke show biz, and many of them helped 
many an act with money when some of the "guests" were going 
over the rough spots. 

There were a few different type theatrical hotels, like those that 
really let themselves run down and naturally charged cheaper rates 
and got many acts whose bankrolls wouldn't allow them to live at 
the better places. The Saratoga in Chicago was that kind of a spot. 
You could buy anything a double routine, parody, tip on a horse,, 
hot jewelry or even some "nose candy" right in the lobby. The only 
rule strictly enforced in this type hotel (known to the profession 
as "buckets of blood'') was "No smoking of opium in the ele- 

The Rexford in Boston was New England's answer to the Sara- 
toga. The Rexford was a massive building in the heart of Boston's 
tenderloin. They had bars on the windows, like in a jail, which 
saved many a guy and gal from falling or being thrown out. The 
sheets and pillowcases and even the blankets were stenciled with 
large black letters, "Property of the Rexford/ 7 At 3 A.M. a big bell 
would ring, which meant it was time for everybody to go to his 
own room. The fun was over. Or was it? On hot summer nights 
some of the actors would sit on the roof and rush the can. They'd 
chip in a dime, put it in the can, which they would lower to the 
street with a long piece of string. There a stooge would take it and 
have it filled with beer, take a good drink (which was his commis- 
sion), and the boys would heist it back to the roof. It was all so 
homey and nice, but kinda rough! They catered to more burly 

Lefty's Letters 284 

people than vaude, but it was very handy for the vaude acts that 
played In the olio at the Old Howard, Waldron's Casino, the 
Scollay Square, etc. It was sold during the war to the Salvation 
Arm\C who used it for soldiers and sailors. It was opened with 
prayer as the Arcadia. 

The Alamac in St. Louis was on a par with the Rexford. They 
too catered mostly to burlesque people, and later became the hang- 
out for bootleggers and gangsters. They never bothered the actors 
and the actors wouldn't bother them, except maybe for a few 

New York had many theatrical hotels. The Knickerbocker on 
Forty-second Street and Broadway was where Caruso and many big 
stars' lived. It was turned into an office building which didn't allow 
any theatrical tenants! The Metropole on Forty-third Street and 
Broadway, wirere Rosenthal the gambler was shot, started as Joe 
Adams 7 Hotel, a great hangout for vaude and burly people. Later 
it became the Comedy Club and now is RosofFs, a very fine hotel 
and restaurant. The old Continental on Broadway and Forty-first 
Street was the place the circus and outdoor-racket boys stopped. 

There were few good boardinghouses down South. Mother 
Pettit's, in Richmond, Virginia, was about the best. Actors would 
usually stop at rooming houses and eat out at the "greasy spoons/' 
In the early days the food was terrible in the South; the big hotels 
were too expensive, and besides, they didn't care for the theatrical 
trade. The saying among actors was, "J ust saving enough dough 
to have an operation on my stomach when I get back North." But 
now the South boasts of some of the finest restaurants in the 

Living was a problem for acts playing the smaller towns. Every 
town in those days had a Mansion House, American Hotel, or 
Commercial House; a Eureka Restaurant, Modern Lunch, or 
Wagon Lunch, and a Reliable Laundry. The theaters were usually 
named Globe, Palace, Keystone, Gem, Hippodrome, World in 
Motion, and, of course, the "Opry" House! 

At the old hotels in the small towns you came in and were 
greeted by a pimply-faced clerk with as much hospitality in his 
voice as a bulldog that got its tail stepped on. He'd swing the big 
register around to you (all registers were on swivels), take a pen 
out of a glass of buckshot, dip it in the large inkwell, and hand it 
to you. While you wrote in your best Spencerian, the pen would 



catch on the cheap paper and throw a blot on "and wife" of the 
guy who registered ahead of you. You'd always put "New York" 
and "theater" after your name. The clerk would read It and give 
you a nod of nonrecognition, turn his back to look at the rack for 
five minutes (nearly all the rooms were empty, but he did this to 
look important ), then tell you he was sorry he couldn't give you a 
better room because they were all filled (and charge you more than 
anyone else was paying). He'd bang on a big bell on the desk to 
call the bellboy, and while waiting for the boy to wake up ? you'd 
take a toothpick out of the glassful on the counter and start pick- 
ing your teeth to kinda act nonchalant. The boy, an old man of 
sixty, would finally show up, take your bags and get you in an 
elevator that would whiz you up at about half a mile an hour. He'd 
show you into a break-a-way room with a five-watt light (that's 
why most actors carried their own light bulbs) . He would of course 
ask you how the show was, and be disappointed when you didn't 
ask him to sit down and tell him jokes. 

At night after the show you'd sit around the lobby with a couple 
of salesmen (they always seemed to come in pairs), and maybe 
they'd tell you some jokes they just heard at Hammerstein's before 
they left New York. (The next night you'd try them in your act 
and find that an act the week ahead of you had already used 
them.) You'd sit around with the salesmen, listening to them lie 
about the big sales they'd made, while you countered with how big 
your act went in New York. You'd flirt with the chambermaid so 
you could get extra towels, and flirt with the waitress to get extra 
portions. The night clerk would listen in to your phone conversa- 
tions (listening to the chorus girls was how he became adult). 
After a few of these "mortuaries" you'd even hanker for one of 
those "bucket of blood" hotels. At least there you would know 
that the country was still alivel 

The Hotel As tor on Times Square, although not strictly a theat- 
rical hotel, has always catered to the tops in show biz. Will Rogers 
never stopped anyplace else when in New York, and Jimmy 
Durante gets his same suite year after year whenever he hits town. 
The Hunting Room at the Astor, when show biz was in full blast, 
had the greatest managers and actors dining there, and when the 
picture biz was in its infancy, all the future tycoons wrote figures 
on the tablecloths running into millions. Weber & Fields, the 
Shuberts, Charles Dillingham, Ziegfeld, Cohen & Harris, Bill 

Lefty's Letters 28S 

Brady. Marcus Loew, Adolph Zukor, William Fox, Jesse Lasky, 
Sam 'Goldwyn, and Sime Sllvernian would lunch there daily. The 
Algonquin has always been a hotel for stage folks, artists, and 
literary greats, and ft still carries on the tradition of the late 
Frank Case. 

Boston had its Adams House, Richwood, Healey's, William Tell 
House, Mother Thomas's, Avery, Totiraine, Hollis Chambers, and 
Jacob Worth's and not forgetting Pie Alley Strip, where you 
bought tickets to get coffee for two cents and pie for three cents; 
coffee and beans were eleven cents! 

The actor's living and eating habits have come a long way since 
the days of Mother Howard's. They now live in plush hotels with 
clean rooms, excellent service, fine food but no laughsl SEZ 

Your pal, 


Yon Say That! 

Dear Joe, 

It was around 1927 that the boys and gals and execs of vaudeville 
forgot the rule that Tony Pastor and B. F. Keith laid down, "Keep 
it clean"! They began sneaking gags into their acts that were blue 
even in the old honky-tonk days! It was one of the poisons that 
helped kill vaudeville! 

It all started slowly (like a cancer). The heads of vaude were 
more worried about the stock-market quotations than what was 
going on on their stages (which made it possible for them to 
dabble with the market in the first place). One act would get a 
yok with an off-color gag or a blue piece of business (usually a 
headliner first) , so another act would sneak one in. Managers would 
let the headliners get by with it, but cut it on the smaller acts. 
Actors, when asked to cut a blue gag, would give the manager 
an argument, "Why, I used that gag at the Palace," or "on the 


Orpheura Time." The manager by then was just a messenger boy 
and didn't feel that he had the authority to make the acts cut it 
out; the act was getting ten times his salary and so he was im- 
pressedand let the gag get by. 

It was when the managers all over the circuits received letters 
from their patrons complaining that vaude was no longer a "family 
amusement 77 that the trade papers, especially Variety, wrote edi- 
torials about it and demanded that the managers and circuits start 
censoring their shows. It was only then that the heads of the 
circuits finally issued orders to cut all blue material and for each 
manager to send in a copy of the gags he cut. These reports in turn 
were sent to all the managers with names of the acts and instruc- 
tions to cut the gags listed, and to cancel the act if it insisted on 
using them. That looked like they meant business and would surely 
cure the eviL 

But the "cancer" was all set to eat vaude away. The actors would 
leave out the gags mentioned on the "cut sheet" and replace them 
with worse ones. (You see, the acts were getting yoks and couldn't 
get used to the "nice laughs" they got with clever and clean 
material.) Some of the acts would use stuff on the opening show 
that would have been cut in the worst burly show. But they didn't 
care, they got laughs (and the people that laughed loudest were 
the first to complain to the manager), and the newspapermen were 
in for the first show and saw them a hit! So when the local manager 
cut the stuff they used at the opening show, they would stick other 
gags in just as blue, and all week it was a contest between the 
manager and the act. They couldn't have done this if the circuit 
heads had really cared, because you can cure any actor by taking 
his route away. But at that time the Big Brass of vaude had their 
minds on stocks and golf, and as long as they heard the clink of 
gold at the box office they didn't care. A new low was reached 
when a gal was "goosed" at the Palace, the cathedral of vaude- 
ville. B. F. Keith must have turned in his grave in blue-earthed 
New England! 

Through the many manager friends me and Aggie had, we col- 
lected those "cut sheets" that were sent out. The acts that used the 
gags will recognize the sword that cut off their income, and a lot 
of new comedians will be interested in the cut; they may have for- 
gotten the gags and pieces of business and will now put them in 
on radio and TV which may bring vaudeville back! 

Lefty's Letters 288 

Here they are, Joe. (Maybe a lot of laymen won't understand 
many of them, but I am sure they'll get the idea. Most of them 
are very uxisubtle!) We don't give the names of the acts that used 
them we are sure they will recognize them. 


Business of girl raising skirt, saying, "I'm a show girl/' 

"The act* s all shot to helll" 

(After showing leg almost up to thigh) "I'm not going to show you 

everything at these prices!" 
Hitting girl in rear with book, girl reaching back, saying, "Oh, my 


(Time of Arab-Hebrew trouble) All references to Arabs. 
Looking skyward and then brushing top of hat. 
References to Polacks and Guineas. 
"This dog does tricks all over the place/' 
Orders in restaurant, "I want steak." Waiter yells, "Steak me." 

"I want a glass of milk." "Milk me," sez waiter. 
Story of girl in picture show with man. Girl saying, "Someone is 

fooling with my knee." Man says, "It's me, and I'm not fooling!" 
"About a girl taking a tramp through the woods." 
"Close those double-breasted lips!" 
All references to Mayor Walker and LaGuardia, although used 

innocently enough. Unfavorable comments have been received 

by our patrons. 

Remarks about Daddy Browning and Peaches. 
Words, "Cockeye," "Dirty," "Wop." [Keith cut out "cockeye" in 


Business of tearing off woman's trunks. 

'What's your name?" "Murphy, and don't let the nose fool you!" 
"Mother and father are fighting." "Who is your father?" "That's 

what they're fighting about." 
Two nance bits: Man kissing woman, other man sez, "What about 

me, don't I appeal to you?" And, after man does nance walk, 

"Why, a businessman don't walk that way!" "You don't know 

my business!" 
"Lord Epsom, Secretary of the Interior." 


'"Kindly see that the girls' navels are covered." 

fct There are no flies on me." "No y but there are spots where flies 
have been." 

"She had two children by her first husband, two by her second 
husband, two by her third, besides two of her own." 

Girl claims she hurt forehead, man kisses it. Then she claims she 
hurt her finger, which he also kisses, etc. Finally she takes a prat 
fall and says she hurt herself again! 

Girl whispers in mother's ear and moves around the stage, crossing 
her legs, etc. Finally Mother says, "Go and tell your father/' 

"You leave a book around the house and some animal punctuates 

"I took a girl to see 'Ladies of the Evening/ so now I can speak 

All Kip Rhinelander gags. (He married a Negro.) 

Story about man looking through transom at woman in the bath- 

All gags about Peaches Browning and Earl Carroll. 

[okes about De Russey's lane (Hall-Mills murder) and the pig 

Gag about auto troubles, saying, "It was sunk-in-the ditch/' mak- 
ing it sound like "sonofabitch." 

Lady headliner does gag about Spanish fly. Tells about going to 
make a new picture called "My Wedding Night" with sound 

Three big comics doing nance bit at the Palace, with one at finish 

saying, "It must be the tomboy in me," 
Cut all pansy stuff and giving of the raspberry. 

Big comic in Boston censored, refused to cut, and was called on the 
carpet. (He cut.) 

Test tube scene (can't cut because whole act depends on finish). 
Hitler gags where he appears as a nance. 

Wiping perspiration from under arms, legs, etc., and all maneuver- 
ings of lady's skirt. 

"I thought I picked a skirt, but I picked a bloomer!" 
"I believe in companionate marriage; that means 'open shop/ " 

Lefty's Letters 29 

"Are TOE looking at my knee?" "No, Fm way above that." 

Word "rabies" in the line "dog had rabies." 

Reference to the little cottage behind the big one. 

"I like to take experienced girls home." "Fm not experienced/" 

"You're not home yet!" 
Picking John Gilbert's nose. 
Speaking about a girl as a "broad," 

"Children look more like their fathers since we have Frigidaires." 
"One flight op and turn to your right, madame" (after she whispers 

in his ear) . 

"Panama Panties completely cover the Canal Zone." 
"Cow drinks water and gives milk baby drinks milk and gives " 
"That was when Fanny was still a girl's name." 
"I said good-by to the train and jumped on my girl." 
'Walking sticks were invented when Eve presented Adam with 

a Cain." "I didn't think you were Abel." 
"She thinks lettuce 7 is a proposition." 
"Statue of Liberty is surrounded by water because she raised her 

hand and teacher didn't see her." 
Feenamint gags- 
"I slept with the twins during the rain storm, but I might as well 

have gone home." 

Cut names of Pantages and Aimee Sernple McPherson. 
"Fm going to the livery stable for doughnuts." 
"Little Willie Green from Boston, Mass., waded into the water 

up to his knees!" 

After girl rubs man's chest, he says, "Now let me do that to you." 
Boy asks girl's father for permission to marry his daughter. "Fm 

making $65 a week and that's enough for two to live on." "Sup- 
posing you have children?" (Boy knocks on wood.) "We've 

been lucky so far." 

"Didn't I meet you under the bed at the Astor Hotel?" 
"I knew you when you didn't have a pot to cook in!' 
"He's the father of a baby boy, but his wife doesn't know it yet." 
"I'll never marry a girl who snores," "You're going to have a swell 

time finding out!" 

Men grabbing partner by seat of trousers, latter crying, "What 

encouragement did I give you?" 
Holding partner's nose, then wiping hand on shirt, saying, "You 

have a cold." 

(To flute player) "Hey, that thing is sticking out again." 
"Boy is so small because his father was a Scotchman." 
(Man to girl) "Are you married?" "No." "Any children?" "I told 

you I'm not married." "Answer my question! 1 
"Hurry, you're a little behind, Fanny!" 
(To groom) "How do you like married life?" "I'D tell you better 

in the morning." 
"I said, 'Relax/ not ^Ex-lax! 7 " 

Rhyme about girl's haircut, inferring it looks like a man's behind. 
Girl walking on stage with a pair of oars, saying, "I just made 

the crew." 
Business of partner trickling sprinkling can on man's leg; he then 

kicks dog. 
Dog appears to be whispering to man. "Sure, it's at the end of 

the hall." 

"He buried his head in my shoulder then plowed his way through. 79 
"I get a thrill when I look up at her balcony." 
"If you don't get married, your children will hate you when they 

grow up." 

"Out of 50,000 people, the pigeon had to pick me out." 
"Your father is in Kansas City." "He isn't. He is dead." "Your 

mother's husband is dead, but your father lives in Kansas City." 
"He's in the automobile business. He gave me an automobile last 

night, and tonight he's gonna give rne the business." 
"Did you pay a green fee?" "No, we were in the rough all day/' 
"He uses sign language. He expresses his feelings with his hands/' 
"I have fourteen children and I'm afraid my husband doesn't love 

me/' "Hell, think of what might have happened if he loved you." 
"Magician had me in the hallway, the hand is quicker than the 


Gag about woman barber nursing baby and saying, "You're next/" 
Business of apparently spitting in each other's faces. 

Lefty's Letters 232 

Vulgar suggestions while dancing with girl (looking down her 

"If Nature won't, Pluto will." 

Squirting Flit under the arms. 

4 *Ont West where men are men and women are double-breasted/ 7 

"The next movement is from Epsom." 

Business of touching man and saying, "Are yon nervous?" (touch- 
ing rear) "Only around the second chucker." 

Xame of President Hoover or any state, city, or national official. 

Reference to Protestants. 

"Old woman who lived in a shoe had so many children she didn't 
know what to do/' "Why did she have so many children?" 
"Because she didn't know what to do." 

Gag with girl from the audience. "Anything else you'd like?" 
"Nothing you can throw from the audience. 7 ' 

I'll bet you don't believe that all this was pulled on the Big 
Time, but it was. It only goes to show you how low vaude got 
toward the finish. It was like an old guy slapping a young gal on 
the fanny! The brooms, soap and water, and mops used by Tony 
Pastor and B. F. Keith were all worn out. 

These were the things they were told they must not say, but 
they did, until there were no more vaude theaters they could say 
them in. SEZ 

Your pdL, 


P.S. Hey, radio and TV ... take a hint. 

Dear Joe, 

I wrote you about the half a dozen actors who started The Jolly 
Corks, which later became the Benevolent Protective Order of 
Elks. In 1898, at Seattle, Washington, a few more showmen started 


a social club for themselves and called it the "Order of Good 
Things/' The showmen were John Corf, John Considine, Harry 
Leavitt, Mose Goldsmith, and Arthur Williams. After a few weeks 
this little club's name was changed and soon became the big 
fraternal order called the "Eagles." So you see show folks are 
responsible for two of the biggest benevolent organizations in 

There was a saying in show biz that whenever three actors got 
together, they'd start a club. They were always seeking sociability, 
to swap stories, have laughs, and make touches. But they insisted on 
being with other actors who understood their language. 

The oldest theatrical club in America, up to 1944, when it dis- 
banded, was the Actors' Order of Friendship, which was organ- 
ized in 1849. ft was strictly an actor's club. The mother lodge was 
in Philadelphia, and New York had Edwin Forrest Lodge No. 2, 
which was organized in 1907, with a clubhouse at 139 West Forty- 
seventh Street. Later they joined with the Green Room Club, and 
when it broke up r the eleven surviving members of the Actors' 
Order of Friendship sold the clubhouse building, receiving about 
$2,000 apiece, and disbanded. 

The Green Room Club was organized in 1902 and it was then 
called the Theatrical Business Club. James O'Neill was the first 
prompter (president) . From 1902 to 1904 they met in a house on 
West Forty-seventh Street, where the Palace now stands. They 
then joined the Actors' Order of Friendship, whose members didn't 
have to pay dues, because they gave the Green Roomers the use 
of their clubhouse. In 1923, when the AXXO.F. leased their house 
(later selling it), under the guidance of S. Jay Kaufman the Green 
Roomers took a ninety-nine-year lease on a beautiful building at 
19 West Forty-eighth Street. They were doing very well when finan- 
cial trouble developed after one of the officers helped himself to a 
big chunk of the till. Also in 191 1 they had had some internal trouble 
and seventy-five of the insurgents had joined the Friars without 
having to pay an initiation fee. But for a long time the Green 
Roomers really had a swell club with a fine membership. They 
gave Revels at the clubhouse and also for the general public. S. Jay 
Kaufman as president worked very hard to help the younger actor. 
He started a dormitory where the young actors could sleep for very 
little money. Some of our present-day stars were "boarders" in the 
dormitory when things weren't breaking so well for them. It was 

Lefty's Letters 294 

a small but very warm club, and It was a shame that it never was 

The second oldest theatrical club is the Players, which was organ- 
ized in Xew York in 1889 and took up quarters on Gramercy Park 
at the home of the immortal Edwin Booth, who endowed the 
building to them. His bedroom still remains as it was. The roster 
of the Players contains mostly legit actors, but nearly all well- 
known legits played vaude at some time or other in their careers. 
There are also many fine artists and writers among the member- 
ship. A very distinguished theatrical club is the Players! 

The Erst real social club made up of vaudevillians only was the 
Vaudeville Comedy Club. The idea originated with Louis Simon 
(remember him in a comedy sketch, "The New Coachman"?) and 
a few others, while gabbing in the offices of Meyers & Keller, the 
agents. The first meeting was held at the Empire Hotel in 1906- 
Frank Byron ("The Dude Detective") gave $10 for expenses. 
Carl ton Macy (Lydell & Macy), suggested the name, Comedy 
Club ? but when they found there already was a club by that name, 
they changed it to the Vaudeville Comedy Club. Will Cressy, 
fCressy & Dayne) was made president. The idea was to have the 
club for comedy acts only. James J. Morton ('The Boy Comic") 
was the secretary, and it was through his hard work that the club 
really got over. It started out as a club for laughs, but they also 
worked for better conditions backstage and started a protective 
material department. In 1907 they moved to 147 West Forty-fifth 
Street (next door to the Lyceum Theatre) and in 1909 they moved 
to 224 West Forty-sixth Street. It was here the famous Clown 
Nights started, with Big Jim Morton as M.CX Jim did such a good 
job that he later became the first professional M.C. in America. 

The club did a lot of good work. It supported Percy Williams 
in his fight against E. F. Albee, and when Albee saw that Williams, 
with Comedy Club support, would control practically all the 
comedy and next-to-closing acts, he made peace with Williams, who 
later sold his circuit to Albee for about seven million bucks. The 
club stuck to Williams so there would be some opposition in 
vaude- The start of the downfall of the Comedy Club was when 
they began to take in managers, agents, and lay people, and soon, 
through inner dissension among "cliques/' they were on the verge 
of bankruptcy. 

At this time Gene Hughes (not yet an agent) was the club's 


president, and he called a special meeting to announce the bad 
news. During Gene's speech there was a hush all over the room 
and the members were feeling very bad about the turn of events. 
At this point Ham* B. Watson (Bickle, Watson & Wrothe), 
wearing a checkered suit, gray derby, spats, and carrying a cane, 
entered. Johnny Stanley fa great ad-libber) looked up, saw Wat- 
son, and yelled, "Go back. You're not on for an hour yet!" Every- 
body got to laughing and Gene Hughes couldn't get them back 
to order. So what happened? Yep, we went bankrupt! The club was 
reorganized and started again at the Metropole Hotel, on West 
Forty-third Street (where Rosenthal was shot), and again the club 
broke up. Some of the members tried to revive it as the festers, 
with Frank Conroy (Conroy & LeMaire) as president. Al Jolson, 
J. J. Morton, Harry Fox, Irving Berlin, and Bernard Granville were 
a few of the revivers, but it just didn't revive. We then had a floor 
next to the Palace and for awhile it looked as if it would go, but 
it didn't, and so the Vaudeville Comedy Club and the Jesters 
closed their doors after about eight years of a lot of laughs. There'll 
never be another club like it! 

In 1906 circuses had a couple of social clubs. The Robinson 
Show called their club the Elephants, while the Barnum & Bailey 
show called theirs the Tigers. 

In the fall of 1904 an organization called the Press Agents' 
Association was formed to stop the free-pass frauds. Nearly every- 
body in and out of show biz was working some gimmick to get a 
free pass. The first meeting was held at Brown's Chop House, in 
response to a call by Charles Emerson Cook (then a press agent 
for Belasco). Channing Pollock was first president, John W. Rum- 
sey, treasurer, and John S. Flaherty (manager and P.A. of the 
Majestic Theatre) was secretary. A blacklist of phonies was made 
up and the practice was broken and with it the interest of the 

In 1906 Will Page and Joe Plunkett sent out a call and the 
membership was enlarged to include press agents and actors all 
over the country, and actors soon became the majority and changed 
the name to the Friars (originated by Frederick F. Shrader). 
Charles Emerson Cook was made Abbot (president), Frank J. 
Wilstach, Dean (vice-president), John Rumsey, treasurer, and 
Wells Hawks, secretary. They were the first actors' club to give 
dinners to prominent people. Clyde Fitch, the famous playwright, 

Lefty's Letters 2S8 

was the first honored guest at the Beaux Arts Cafe. At the Victor 
Herbert dinner, the famous Friars' song, by Cook and Herbert, 
was born. These dinners had a new twist to them; instead of 
eulogizing the guest of honor, they appointed an "agenf (sup- 
posedly a press agent) to introduce the honored guest. He would 
pan the goest instead of boosting him. (The late Ren Wolf was 
the greatest.) It was a novel and welcome change from the 
regular routines. 

The Friars were incorporated in 1907 and held meetings at the 
Hotel Hermitage. They got a house at 107 West Forty-fifth Street 
in 1908. Their annual public affairs were first called Festivals, 
then later Frolics. In 1916 they moved to their own large club- 
house at 1 10 West Forty-eighth Street. It was called the Monastery. 
George M. Cohan, then the Abbot, headed a parade to the new 
clubhouse, where he opened the door and threw the key away. The 
place remained open until 1933, when bankruptcy closed its doors. 
They moved to new quarters atop the Hollywood Theatre, and 
after a short stay again broke up and took a few rooms at the Hotel 
Astor in 1936 under a reorganization. Then to the Hotel Edison 
Annex, where they stayed until 1950, when they moved to their 
own clubhouse at 123 West Fifth-sixth Street It is really not the 
original Friars, but they still have many members of the old Friars, 
and are a very important and successful actors' club (with Milton 
Eerie as Abbot). 

But I want to tell you about the fabulous old Friars Club on 
Forty-eighth Street. It was a beautiful clubhouse. Most of the 
membership were vaude actors, and everybody seemed to have 
money (we often collected $1,000 for some cause or other in less 
than an hour). The place was run for laughs. When the club 
needed money (which was often), George M. Cohan would get 
the boys together and give a Frolic, which made $50,000, theo 
everybody relaxed until the finances ran down again. The things 
that happened there are fantastic! 

At one time there was a man who took a great interest in the 
club. He had the pool tables recovered and new cues and balls 
bought. He then took up the problems of the dining room and had 
the menu and prices changed. (We had one of the finest dining 
rooms, serving great food, which by the way, lost $50,000 a year.) 
This gentleman certainly ran things for about four months. One 
day he got into an argument with Charlie Pope (husband of Stella 


Hammerstein and a terrific character In his own right). Charlie 
tamed to someone and asked who the fellow was. Nobody seemed 
to know; some said he was the head of the House Committee; 
others thought he was on the Board of Governors; nobody knew 
for sure. Charlie investigated and found that the guy wasn't even 
a memberl He had come in on a guest cardl 

Another time some of us were standing outside of the club 
when a van drove up and two huskies said they had come to pick 
up a piano to be tuned. They went in and brought it out and a 
few of the boys even helped them put it in the van. A few nights 
later someone wanted to play the piano and was told that it had 
been taken out to be tuned. He looked puzzled and said, "Since 
when do you have to take out a piano to have it tuned?" The 
piano was never returned. 

You think youVe heard of funny things? How about having a 
steam pipe running through the icebox for years before they found 
it out? And it wasn't until we moved from the Monastery that we 
found out we had had one of the first air-conditioned clubhouses, via 
vents. But they were closed for the more than fifteen years we were 
there and in summer we had the hottest clubhouse in New YorkI 
But what a great club for laughs! 

I must tell you one more story (out of fifty I know) about the 
old Friars to show you the kind of crazy lovable guys we had as 
members. Rube Bernstein (one of our great managers), a real 
pixie, would go to any lengths for a laugh. We had a member, Bill 
Wilder, that walked with a slight limp and carried a cane with a 
rubber tip on the end of it. He was a daily card player, and would 
hang his cane next to him on the table. One night when he was 
very interested in the game, Rube took the cane, removed the 
rubber tip, got a saw, and cut off about an eighth of an inch, put 
the rubber tip back, and hung the cane on the table in its regular 
place. He did this for two weeks, each day cutting off a tiny piece. 
One day Bill came into the club leaning way over. Rube asked him, 
"How you feeling?" And Bill said, "Fm getting worse and worse, 
Rube. I can't walk straight anymore!" That gives you an idea of 
some of the many laughs we had in those days. "Let's drink a 
deep toast, to the ones we love most, a toast to all Jolly Good 
Friars!" That's the finish of the Friars' song. I'll buy thatand 
that goes for the new Friars! 

In 1898 the Negro performers started a social club, the Greasy 

Lefty's Letters 298 

Front. It was run by Charlie Moore and there was a restaurant in 
the basement run by Mrs. Moore. In 1908 they organized a club 
called the Frogs, with the Immortal Bert Williams as president. 
It lasted a long time. They also had the Clef Club, a social and 
protective association for colored musicians. 

In 1908 there was the Golden Gate Professional Club, which 
lasted about five years in California. Mrs, Beaumont Packard was 
president. There "was also the Benevolent Order of Upholders, 
which didn't last at all. In 1910 the Variety Artists League started 
to buck the White Rats (BO go). In 1911 Billy Gould started the 
American Vaudeville Artists, which didn't last over a minute. 
(That, too, tried to buck the White Rats.) 

In 1913 there was one of the greatest show-folk colonies in the 
country. It was at Freepoit, Long Island. Nearly every home in 
the colony was built with vaudeville money. Those were the days 
when vaude acts would lay off in the summer, as most of the 
theaters closed because of no air conditioning. Hanging around 
Ed Rice's garage, the boys would chew the fat, get a half a keg of 
beer, and swap lies and laughs. The gang got so big that they 
decided to build a clubhouse. They called themselves the Long 
Island Good Hearted Thespians 7 Society! (Anything for a laugh.) 
It finally ended up as the Lights (taken from the first letter of 
each word. Maybe this gave the Government the idea of all those 
initial departments like NRA, NLRB, etc.). It became really one 
of the great actors' clubs in America, organized and run by actors, 
All the show folks would come from New York for the week end 
to get laughs, seeing and listening to the greatest ad-libbing and 
clowning ever heard or seen anywhere! Victor Moore was the Angel 
(president) . 

Every summer they would make a Cruise (like the Friars' Frolics 
and Lambs' Gambols, Greenroom Revels, White Rats* Scampers, 
etc.) to raise money. They built a beautiful clubhouse right on the 
bay. The shows on week ends were just terrific! Henry Bergman, 
Eddie Carr, Tommy Dugan, Frank Tinney, Jimmy Conlin, George 
P. Murphy, and George McKay were just a few of the great enter- 
tainers that ad-libbed their way to the greatest floor-show entertain- 
ment you ever could see. The wives started a club of their own r 
using the rathskeller of the club, and called themselves the Pigs, 
why, I will never know! But it certainly was a big success. 
When things got tough, someone suggested taking in lay mem- 


bers. That was the beginning of the end (as In mostly all theatrical 
clubs). Soon the actors couldn't even get seats In their own club; 
all thej- were wanted for was to entertain the lay members and 
their guests. These children of fun couldn't stand this very long. 
They stopped entertaining and soon the Lights went out! A great 
loss to the fun of America. 

But still the actors weren't cured of "clubitis." In 1914 Chicago 
saw the organization of the Old Friends, later called the Strollers. 
A swell guy by the name of Sam Mayer, who went "upstairs" In 
1914, left a collection of 1,265 &2> Q d pictures of prominent show 
folks. (Some of the frames had as many as forty pictures.) Charles 
E. Ellis, Robert Sherman, and F. P. Simpson were responsible for 
buying this collection. Others aiding were Frank Gazzolo, Ed 
Rowland, and E. E. Meredith (Variety man In Chicago at that 
time). Gifts came from Amy Leslie and Mrs. Gardiner (widow of 
Frank Mayo's manager). This collection, bought by Robert Gould 
Shaw, finally passed to Harvard University, which furnished a 
building for Its housing. Ralph Kettering, playwright and producer 
and member of the Strollers, tells me that Mr. Shaw was the son 
of the man who organized the first Negro regiment in the Civil 
War and was the first husband of Lady Astor. This club lasted 
only a short time, but they had a lot of fun while it lasted. 

Many years later there was a Comedy Club in Chicago, with 
clubrooms above the Chicago Lindy's (no connection with New 
York's famous Lindy's). Membership was made up of show folks 
and music publishers, who did a great job of keeping the laughs 
going for visiting vaudevillians. In 1914 there was a club made up 
of women legits called the Gamut Club. I have no idea what ever 
became of it. Then there was the Lox Club, an offshoot of the 
Burlesque Club (which had many vaude members). 

Which brings me to one of the most unique clubs in America, 
or even the world the Burlesque Clubl It was organized when 
burlesque was going real strong all over the country, and the mem- 
bers bought a clubhouse at 237 West Forty-seventh Street. They 
invested some of their funds in a coal mine in Pennsylvania, which 
in turn was leased to a company that paid them royalties. When 
burly went bad and some of the members needed money, the club 
distributed $600 to each member, and as the membership grew 
less and less (due to burly being banned in many places), they sold 
the clubhouse (to Leone, who built an addition to his famous 

Lefty's Letters m 

Italian restaurant). The club then took a couple of rooms at the 
Forrest Hotel, and after a few more years they didn't even need 
two rooms, so just held annual meetings. Henry Kurtzman, who has 
been secretary for years, has really kept the organization alive. 
There are only about a dozen of us left, Bobby Clark (Clark & 
McCullough) is president, and Rube Bernstein, Emmett Calla- 
han, and Herman Becker are the directors of the only actors' club 
that has ever paid dividends to its members! 

There have been many show biz clubs in California the Photo 
Players Club in Los Angeles, the Writers' Club, the Uplifters 
(which really wasn't an actors* club, but had many of them as 
members), and the Bohemians. And of course the Lakeside and 
Hillcrest Golf Clubs, although not organized as actors' clubs, 
have a majority of their membership from the profession, Including 
many of lie greats from vaude, radio, TV, stage, and pics. They 
are laugh exchanges! 

There is an old organization called the Theatrical Mechanics 
Association, better known as the T.M.A. It was founded in Boston 
by the stagehands in 1882. Many actors joined this organization 
(and in later years were glad they did, because they made a good 
living as stagehands). They did a lot of charitable work and had 
branches all over the country. 

There were many "goofy" clubs. In 1916 Felix Adler (a very 
funny man, besides being an actor-writer) organized the Musties. 
The meetings were held in back of a saloon on Sixth Avenue. 
Those gathered would put a dollar in the kitty and the president 
would appoint a committee of one to go out shopping for sand- 
wiches, then another committee of two to watch him to see that 
he spent the money honestly. Then another kitty would be col- 
lected for the "musty ale." Little Billy, the midget, was president. 
He was offered a quarter for his presidency by George M. Cohan, 
but he held out for thirty-five cents, which Cohan refused to pay, 
so Little Billy remained the prez. This was just a gang get-together, 
made up mostly of Friars. Plenty of laughs! 

In 1918 the Lookers was organized as a social club and their 
first and only meeting was held at Terrace Garden. The organizers 
were Jimmy Hussey and George Whiting (Whiting & Burt). The 
club was disbanded because E. F. Albee thought it might become 
another White Rats, and he didn't want any opposition to his 


There was a legit club calling itself the Thespians which didn't 
last yen- long. In 1925 the Professional Entertainers of New York, 
called the Peonys (from the first letters) was organized. The 
membership was made up of vaude actors and entertainers who 
played clubs, a large and important part of show biz and a great 
source of income for many entertainers. The Peonys have lately 
celebrated their silver anniversary, and are still going very strong. 
Besides being a social club, they do a great deal of charity work. 

The Masquers is one of the most important theatrical clubs of 
the West, originally started by members of the Lambs who went 
out to Hollywood for pictures. They asked for a charter from the 
Lambs, but were refused because it was felt that all those members 
would be back in New York soon. So, after waiting a few years, the 
boys organized their own club and called it the Masquers. At first 
only Lambs were admitted, but then the membership was widened 
and today includes all the big names of pics, radio, and TV. They 
have a beautiful clubhouse in Hollywood and run some very fine 
affairs (called Revels). They are a very important organization and 
have contributed a lot to Western theatrical clubdom! (The Lambs 
now have monthly meetings on the Coast with about 100 

There were many clubs started just for laughs, like the Double 
Crosses, organized in Gerson's, with ten-cents-a-day dues. Another 
one organized at Gerson's Restaurant at the Somerset Hotel was 
the Kockamanias, with Marie Hartman as president. Monthly 
meetings were held in the Headlined Room back of the restaurant, 
which was closed to the public. We would put on a show, with 
costumes and special music, lyrics, and book, for which the actors 
would rehearse for a week (and all paid for by "Basil" and his 
wonderful wife Ella). All they wanted was laughs, and they got 

At one time some of the boys wanted to revive the Lights Club, 
and called themselves the Blitzes, but it didn't last long. Olsen & 
Johnson started one 7 the Ancient and Honorable Flealess Order of 
Pups, with Ole Olsen as Barking Knight (president). They met 
whenever and wherever they could. Al Trahan was organizer and 
president of the Royal Order of Cutthroats, which was short-lived. 

The Ramblers was organized as a press stunt to boost the Clark 
& McCullough show of the same name, and it became very big, 
with members from all over the country. No dues, no clubhouse, 

Lefty's m 

just get together ever}' once in awhile for some laughs and beer 
drinking. When Paul'McCulloogti died, the Ramblers died also, 
as he was the mixer of the team and took charge of the get- 

Another fly-by-nighter was the Wildcats; the officers were called 
Tom Cat, Tiger Cat 7 \\Tiite Cat, and Black Cat, and members 
were called kittens. It expired when there was no more milk in 
the saucer (treasury). Another goofy club organized in the old days 
of the Palace was organized at Mark Aaron's Bar next door. They 
would get new members as they came in the door. The password 
was "I will/' and they would ask the new member, "Who's gonna 
buy?' 7 to which he would have to give the password, '1 will." (It 
was always good for one round of drinks, anyway.) 

The Cheese Club was one of the great luncheon clubs of New 
York, with actors, press agents, critics, and newspapermen as mem- 
bers. Harry Richenbach, the famous press agent, was president 
once; then'Harry Hershfield (the raconteur and cartoonist) took it 
over and remained president for many years, until they broke up. 
In fact, Hershfield is still president! He claims that to get rid of a 
president they have to give him a party and a watch, and right 
now none of the Cheese Clubbers can afford it. This was one of the 
first lunch clubs to kid prominent guests. The Cheese Club had 
the distinction of being invited and thrown out of more restaurants 
in New York than any other organization in America. There were 
no membership dues, no initiation, no nothing! The members 
brought guests, and if you were a stranger you could still wander 
in, if you took care of your own check! 

Which leads me into a story about a certain big night-club 
owner and great entertainer whose name happens to be Vincent 
Lopez! After attending one of the Cheese Club luncheons, he 
applied for membership! The boys started to go "on the rib/' and 
they told him it would be tough to get in. To get good will he 
invited all the members and their wives and sweethearts to his 
famous night club as his guests. They all came, the food was won- 
derful, the wine flowed freely, and the check was terrific! At the 
end of the evening Arthur Caesar (a great wit and writer) managed 
to get up and said, "This has been a wonderful evening, but we 
don't want a schmoe (he didn't say schmoe) in our club who 
would spend all this money on people like us!" It was a rib, but 
Vincent never did get in the club, although he attended all 


lunches. ! would write you more about the laughs we used to have 
there, "bat I'm sure my pal Ham- Hershfield will write a book about 
it some day. He should. 

The Coast has an organization called the Troupers, consisting of 
pic, legit, and vaude actors, who hold regular meetings and do 
much charitable work. The Comedy Club in Hollywood is made 
up of old vaude actors, standard and headline acts, who have now 
settled out there. They put on a vaudeville show every year that 
is the talk of the town. Louis Mosconi (Mosconi Bros.) is the 
Headliner (president) . They prove that quality is always in style. 

The ladies of the profession also have clubitis! The Twelfth 
Night Club is practically (not officially) the feminine branch of 
the Lambs, as most of their wives and sweethearts belong to it. 
They even put on many of the sketches used by the Lambs at their 
Gambols. It is really a great club with a fine membership of 
actresses, writers, artists, and housewives. The Dominoes, the lady 
branch of the Masquers (also not officially) 7 is a lot like the Twelfth 
Night Club in membership and activities. The Ziegfeld Girls Club 
is made up of principals and chorus girls who were in the Ziegfeld 
shows. They take care of many of the old show gals that find the 
going a bit rough. They give an entertainment every year which is 
a "must" for all show biz to attend. The Troupers in New York 
(no connection with the club by the same name in Hollywood) is 
a woman's theatrical club with a membership made up of the 
wives of many of the night-club entertainers, disk jockeys, and 
radio and TV actors. They do a fine job of charitable work. A young 
organization, but a very efficient one. 

During Prohibition the actors just had to start another club, and 
while it lasted it was the funniest spot in town. It was called the 
Fifty-Fifty Club, and its Chef (president) was Hal Beach, the 
famous art connoisseur. The membership was the elite of show biz. 
Like the Lights, they would get up and entertain each other. With 
Harry Ruby (the famous composer) at the piano and Eddie Miller 
singing and the choice comedians comedianing, you were sure of a 
great night's fun. The members had private lockers that held their 
own supposedly prewar liquors. No laymen broke up this great fun 
spot as they did the other actors' clubs. The blackout on this one 
can be blamed on the wives! 

I should also tell you about the many Actors' Guilds, which are 
definitely a part of show biz. Although they are not social clubs, 

Lefty' Letters f 3 4 

they all do a gregt job of helping so many of our profession. The 
Catholic Actors' Guild, the Episcopalian Actors* Guild, the Jewish 
Theatrical Guild, and the Negro Actors 7 Guild all operate without 
regard to race or creed. The Actors' Fund is the oldest of all actors' 
charitable organizations. They have taken care of the aged and 
sick and needy for over half a century, besides providing a home 
for the aged. These are all great organizations, but don't come 
under the Heading of theatrical clubs. 

The treasurers have the Hellraisers 7 club. Another club with 
membership consisting of managers, agents, press agents, treasurers, 
and businessmen of the theater is the Hot Air Club (first started in 
1899) . They ran a clambake at Price's Place at Pleasure Bay on the 
Shrewsbury JRiver every year. There are no dues, no meetings, only 
get-togethers once a year, and a member can bring a guest (usually 
an actor or a showman). I asked my old friend Elliott Foreman 
why the name, Hot Air Club? He said, "Because it has always 
been rated the ruling commodity of Broadway. While the quality 
has been steacfily lowered during the process of orientation, the 
quantity of the supply or its free usage upon the Rialto has never 
slackened." Which is a good enough reason for any club! 

As for the' Lambs (now the oldest and greatest of all actors" 
clubs) and the White Rats, I will write you about them in another 

A coupla actors just dropped in on me, I think we'll start a Club! 

Your pd, 


Tlte lambs 

Dear Joe, 

The oldest theatrical club in America today is the Lambs. It was 
Christmas Day in 1874 that five guys who were having supper at 
Delmonico's Blue Room, in New York, decided to start a supper 



club, which Henry J. Montague named the Lambs. There was a 
club In England called the Lambs, supposedly because in London 
actors used to gather at the home of Charles Lamb and his sister, 
Man* Lamb, and the line among the actors was, "*Let r s go around 
to the Lambs'." 

There was another version given by Henry J. Montague, who was 
one of the original Lambs in London and who I think should really 
know. According to him, a few actors in England occasionally took 
a dip in the sea near Dover, in the South of England. Sheep raising 
was an important industry in that section of the country, and the 
shepherds used the spot as an ideal place to wash their flocks. This 
gave the little group the thought of calling themselves the Lambs, 
and suggested that the head of the organization be called the 
Shepherd, the entertainments be called Gambols, and the big event 
be known as the Wash (which is an annual outing given by the 
Lambs). Take your "cherce" as to which is correct. But we do 
know that Henry J. Montague became the first Shepherd of the 
Lambs in America! 

It was at the Maison Doree Hotel that the first meeting was held, 
and in less than a year the Union Hotel was the site of the first 
private supper room. In 1877 they moved to the Matchbox, at 848 
Broadway (next to Wallaces Thirteenth Street). The next stop 
was the Union Square Hotel, and as the membership grew they 
again had to move, this time to the Monument House at 6 Union 
Square (Fourteenth Street was then the Rial to) . By now they had 
about sixty members. 

In 1878 the Lambs moved "uptown" to 19 East Sixteenth Street. 
They had a little over $80 in the treasury and J. Lester Wallack 
was elected Shepherd and served for seven years. Moving two blocks 
away from Fourteenth Street gave the boys courage, so in April 
1880 they got their own clubhouse at 34 West Twenty-sixth Street, 
which in those days was way uptown. It was here they started the 
Gambols. The first Gambol took place in 1888 with Edmund S. 
Holland (one of the five original Lambs) as the collie (which 
means he produced the show and was the top man of the night, 
and also means you go a month without sleep). 

A couple of years later the dough ran out and the boys moved to 
the Gilsey House and in three years paid off all their creditors. In 
1895 they were going strong again with 272 members. The next 
year they had plans far another clubhouse, still further uptown 

Lefty's Letters 306 

(where show biz was moving to), 70 West Thirty-sixth Street. 
It was May, 1897, ^ at ^Y movec i i to ^^ new clubhouse (they 
call it the Fold). It was the same year that the London Lambs 
broke up, and the surviving members were made Honorary Lambs 
in America. Sir John Hare, the founder of the Lambs in London, 
was made Shepherd Emeritus, and he presented the club with the 
original crook and bell and other tokens of office of the London 
group, which are still used at our Inauguration Gambols. 

By 1902 the membership grew so much they had to get a new 
clubhouse. They first took an option on a hunk of property on 
West Forty-eighth Street (where the Playhouse was built later), 
then they switched to where they are now, 128 West Forty-fourth 
Street. That was in 1904 and in 1913 they bought a couple of build- 
ings west of their quarters and the western half of the Lambs 
building was built. They used Keen's Chop House as temporary 
headquarters while the club was being built. The architect was the 
famous Stanford White, who later was fatally shot by Harry Thaw 
(not for building the Lambs) . 

The building contains many valuable paintings presented to the 
club by artist members, great names in art like Frederic Remington, 
Edward Simmons, W. L. Metcalf, James Montgomery Flagg, How- 
ard Chandler Christy, Henry Inman, and Maj. Victor Guinness 
(the official Marine Corp painter). There are a lot of valuable 
photographs and old programs and stage memorabilia. A shrine to 
Lambs who served in two world wars holds a bronze draped figure, 
the work of Robert I. Aitken. An annual service is held before it, 
with big brass of all services attending. The Lambs did great serv- 
ice during both wars. Under the chairmanship of Joseph Buhler, 
Phil Green, and Sam Forrest, each member would donate a check 
covering the weekly entertainment of service men from all coun- 
tries at the clubhouse. Some of the GIs saw their first show at the 
Lambs. It was during one of these entertainments that a GI from 
the South was asked how he liked it. He said, "I've never seen 
'round actors' before." (Only pics.) 

One of the outstanding curios is the fife rail of the Spanish 
cruiser Mercedes, removed before it was sunk in Santiago Harbor 
on July 4, 1898. It was first used as the front of the bar on Thirty- 
sixth Street, but now is at the main desk. The mantel over the 
present huge fireplace in the Grill was presented by Stanford 
White. It was rumored that it came from Pompeii, but it really 


came from Florence, Italy. No matter where It came from,, it really 
Is beautiful. The Buddha sitting on top of the fireplace was pre- 
sented by Lamb Joseph Keegan, world traveler (especially In the 
Orient), who will tell you fantastic stories of how the Buddha was 
stolen and finally smuggled Into the country. There is a huge silver 
bowl on the large library table, depicting the career of Joseph 
Jefferson in his famed role of Rip Van Winkle; It was presented to 
him as a testimonial and he In turn gave It to his favorite club. 

There were many memorable hours In the Lambs. It w r as an 
ordinary occurrence for Victor Herbert to play the piano or cello, 
and for Caruso to sing, "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" Singers 
around the piano might include Chauncey Olcott, John McCor- 
mack, and Andrew Mack. Dancers like Harland Dixon, Johnny 
Boyle, and Jack Donahue would be dancing to the tune of Rhap- 
sody in Blue, played for them by the composer, George Gershwin. 
A swell little guy would go to the piano and the gang had to listen 
real close to hear him sing his latest hit Irving Berlin. Great 
stories were told by great storytellers. Members included writers, 
poets, artists, doctors, lawyers, priests, ministers, mayors, governors, 
cabinet members, admirals, generals, flyers, and now our President, 
Dwight Eisenhowerl 

The "fun nest" in any club is at the bar. The Lambs Is no 
exception. There were so many funny things that have happened 
at the famous Lambs bar that it would take a book to record ? em 
all. But the one that is always told to Lambkins (freshman Lambs) 
and guests is about the funny, talented, and lovable Dick Carle. 

As you know, Richard Carle was a musical-comedy star, writer, 
and fine comedian. By the way, Dick told me and Aggie how he 
became a comedian. He was very nearsighted and naturally had to 
wear glasses. He was in a show in which he played practically a 
straight part. As he was about to make his entrance he dropped 
his glasses. Instead of making his entrance through the door, he 
did it through a window (which he thought was the door) . He got 
a great laugh, took advantage of his mistake, and gave a comedv 
performance instead of the straight role he was cast for. From that 
day on he was a comedian and a great one! 

Now to get back to the story. At one time bartenders would 
decorate the backbar by stacking shiny glasses in fancy designs. 
One day while Dick Carle was at the bar drinking with some 
brother Lambs, he told a story, and when he got to the climax, he 

Lefty's Letters 

Illustrated it by taking his cane and with a wide sweep, knocking 
all the glasses off the bar! He was suspended for ninety days. (The 
members call it being sent to Siberia which was Pat Finn's 
thirst emporium next door, which catered to the exiles.) When 
the three months were up, Dick came in and was greeted by the 
gang, and of course Dick started celebrating his homecoming with 
tonsil soothers. He was there a couple of hours when a member 
came over and asked him why he hadn't seen him around the 
club in months? "I was sent to Siberia," said Dick. "Is that so?" 
said his companion. "What did you do, Dick?" "Nothing. All I 
did was take my cane and do this!" And with that he took his cane 
and illustrated by knocking all the glasses off the bar again. We 
didn't see Dick at the club for another six months, unless we looked 
in on Siberia! 

There is a fully equipped theater on the third floor that seats 
about 300. It is here we give the famous club Gambols; many 
of the sketches written for them later became Broadway shows. 
The Squaw Man, Her Way Out, with Jim Corbett, The Littlest 
Rebel (also played in vaude as a sketch), Experience, As a Man 
Thinks, The Witching Hour, Harvest Moon, and The Copperhead, 
in which Lionel Barrymore starred, are just a few. Lately Stalag 17 
was first shown at the club, and Jose Ferrer saw it and decided to 
produce it on Broadway, where it was a big success. It was at these 
club Gambols that you would see a great star like John Drew play 
the part of a butler, with maybe one line, and some youngster have 
the star part. A Lambkin must play "dame" parts his first year (as 
no women are allowed in the club) . Some of these who were really 
great in make-up and performances were Stanley Ridges, Joe 
Santley, EfEngham Pinto, and Bruce Evans. 

Tommy C. Lamb (C. stands for Casanova), who was the club's 
mascot for many years., was truly a remarkable cat, Merely an 
alley cat when he first came to the Lambs, he blossomed forth as 
one of the most beautiful cats you have ever seen. There wasn't a 
pregnant cat within a radius of six blocks that didn't blame it on 
Tom. He really was remarkable. When anyone in the dining room 
would order fish (just order it, mind you) he would get up from 
his spot on the bar and come to the dining room, right to the table 
where the fish was to be served* This has been proven to skeptics 
time and time again. 

The Gallery Boys (which was a fun-club within the Lambs, like 


the Sliriners in the Masonic Lodge) with Joe Laurie, Jr., president, 
Jack Norworth and Fred Hillebrand, board of directors, and a 
membership which paid from 25 cents to $5.00 initiation fees, once 
gave a dinner to Tommy Lamb. Everybody wore evening clothes, 
speeches were made by great after-dinner speakers, while Tommy 
stretched out on a special throne, with loads of catnip around him, 
paying no attention to the catnip or the speakers, and when it was 
all over got up, stretched, yawned, and walked away. 

There was a fraternity next door that had a cat that was altered. 
The president of the fraternity asked the head of the Gallery Boys 
would they invite their cat (to the Tommy Lamb party), seeing 
we were neighbors. He was told that ladies weren't allowed and 
neither were "nances." He immediately wrote to the New York 
Times, telling them his "beef/' which Laurie answered, and the 
columns lasted for two weeks. People from all over the country sent 
gifts to Tommy, bales of catnip, women knitted shoes and sweaters, 
sent dishes, etc. Mickey Walker brought a set of boxing gloves for 
him (still hanging in back of the bar). James Montgomery Flagg 
did a swell painting of him, as did a gentleman whose name I am 
sorry escapes me for the moment, but who is one of the great 
animal painters of America. Tommy has long since gone to where 
all good cats go, but he left a grandson that carries on; he is even 
more talented than his granddad. Under Willie the waiter's train- 
ing (Willie has been with us over thirty years), he sits up with a 
cigarette in his mouth, wears glasses, holds a newspaper in his paws 
and won't move until Willie tells him to. When he gets on the 
pool table, the rules are that you must shoot around him; nobody 
is allowed to chase him off. 

There are three great characters in the Lambs 7 employ Murphy 
(Biagio Velluzzi), the bootblack, Sammy Pinsker, the night man, 
and, of course, Margie Henley, the chief telephone operator. All 
have been with The Lambs over thirty-five years. At one time Gene 
Buck, who helped produce over fifteen Ziegfeld Follies and who was 
the president of AS CAP for many years, dressed Murphy up in 
white tie and tails with a red ribbon across his shirt front and a 
couple of medals and brought him over to the Ziegfeld Midnight 
Frolics where he and Leon Errol introduced him as an Italian count 
to the girls (and whispered that he was loaded with dough) . The 
girls all made over him and he ended up with a half a dozen phone 
numbers slipped to him during the evening. On opening nights he 

Lefty's Letters 31 

puts on his high hat and tuxedo and personally delivers a scroll 
from the Lambs to any member who may be in the cast. Sammy 
never fails to give you a "God bless you >T ; he has taken care of many 
a big and little star with money and doctoring, and Is always cheer- 
ful and optimistic. Sammy and Murphy know more about show 
folks than anyone I ever met. We have them appear in many a 
Gambol and they know their lines better than many of the actors. 
Two real great gentlemen of whom the Lambs are very proud. The 
Lambs would be a lonesome place without "God bless you" Sammy 
and Murphy! 

Last year the Lambs had a Ladies Day, the first one in its history. 
It was fought by many members, but the Shepherd, Bert Lytell, 
won out and it proved to be one of the really great events of the 
Lambs, although many of the members stayed away in protest. 
There are only four living Shepherds: William Gaxton, the present 
Shepherd, who also sewed 1936-1939; Fred Waring, 1939-1942; 
John Golden, 1942-1945; and Bert Lytell, 1947-1952. 

The club's constitution makes it mandatory for the membership 
to consist of three professionals to one nonprofessional, which 
insures that the club always be in control of professionals. It is the 
only theatrical club that owns its own building outright no 

An actors' club that can last seventy-nine years is a wonder in 
itself, but the Lambs happens to be a wonderful club. If the Lambs 
died, the theater would die. SEZ 

Your pal, 


The White Rats and the W.V.A- 

Dear Joe, 

Conditions in vaudeville around 1900 were pretty bad. The 
U.B.O. had things their own way. They had gypping agents, graft- 
ing bookers, cancellation clauses in the contracts, and switching of 



routes, which meant they would lay out a nice route for you, with 
short jumps which you could afford to take at the salary they 
offered, then would switch dates where you had to make big jumps 
that ate up a lot of your salary. Some acts were paying as high as 
20 per cent commission. All of these things led George Fuller 
Golden, one of our great monologists, to suggest to his friends that 
they ought to have an organization that would not only be social 
but also try to eliminate these abuses. 

So on June i, 1900, at a meeting in the Parker House bar, the or- 
ganization was started. George Fuller Golden was the founder and 
first Big Chief (president); Dave Montgomery, Little Chief (veep); 
James J. Morton, Scat Rat (secretary); Mark Murphy, Treasurat 
(treasurer); Charles T. Aldrich, Chap Rat (chaplain); Tom Lewis, 
Guard Rat (sergeant at arms). The Board of Governors were Sam 
Morton, Fred Stone, Jim Dolan, Sam Ryan, and Nat Wills (all 
headliners). The name White Rats was taken from a fine and well- 
organized actors' club in London called the Water Rats (named 
after a race horse which a group of actors owned and the dough 
they won on him was given to charity) . Golden had a great regard 
for them (when he played London they entertained him royally); 
when they refused to let anyone use their name, Golden called the 
new organization the White Rats. (Spelled backwards is star!) 

They tried to talk Keith and the U.B.O. into cutting out many 
of the abuses, like the morning tryouts for new acts at the 
Fifth Avenue Theater, where, when the managers didn't like an 
act, they had the curtain Ring down on it (which naturally got 
the actors very angry), the cancellation clauses, etc. But Keith 
wouldn't listen. They held a meeting at their clubrooms, then on 
West Twenty-third Street over a saloon. 

It was at this very important meeting, where they were going to 
decide whether to strike or not, that a very funny thing happened. 
One of the members was a "dese, dose, and dem" song-and-dance 
man, who was a very enthusiastic member and was continually 
getting up and making one-syllable speeches and being generally 
laughed at. At this meeting a young man who had just come in 
from the West got the floor and made a speech that was beauti- 
fully languaged, with fine philosophy and reasoning, and the 
members were spellbound by his oratory. When he finished they 
cheered and carried him around on their shoulders. It was then 
that the song-and-dance man got up on a chair and yelled, "That's 

Lefty's Letters 312 

what I've been trying to tell you dumb bastards for weeks!" The 
young man who made that wonderful speech, which they claim 
really decided the White Rats to declare a strike, was 
J. C. Nugent! 

The strike was a bust, because many of the actors were double- 
crossing each other. The U.B.O. knew the key men of the club 
and would offer them nice long routes at better money than they 
had ever received, while others were turning down routes and 
fighting for their cause. They took the routes, left town, and so 
weakened the White Rats. Many acts were blacklisted and driven 
out of the business. The Rats were practically dead for seven 
years, until a young Englishman with a terrific gift of gab, by the 
name of Harry Mountford, took an interest in it and soon had ar 
enthusiastic bunch of vaude actors following him. When the 
U.B.O. found that they couldn't buy him off, which they tried 
many a time, offering as high as a quarter of a million bucks (by the 
way, Mountford died a very poor man), they started pounding the 
guy in the trade papers, charging him with everything in the book, 
burglary, rape, bigamy, and mayhem. And when he got Samuel 
Gompers, the head of the American Federation of Labor, to give 
the White Rats a charter, the Rats turned from a social club into 
a fighting labor union. They left their small quarters at 1439 Broad- 
way, and leased the upper part of Churchill's Restaurant on Forty- 
sixth Street and Broadway, where they had a few sleeping rooms, 
large meeting hall, pool tables, etc. That was in 1907. 

Members were pouring in, as conditions in vaude was getting 
worse than back in 1900. The Keith-Albee boys were getting wor- 
ried and declared a blacklist of some of the White Rat leaders. 
Mountford started the White Rats' own weekly magazine, called 
The Player, in which he kept writing hot editorials telling about 
the terrible things the U.B.O. was doing to vaude and its actors. 
The union also bought an interest in the Mozart Circuit, which 
had small-time vaude houses in Pennsylvania and New York State. 
(Did you know that Woolworth had a theater in Lancaster, Penn- 
sylvania? It was one which they booked.) They could give a small- 
time act about thirty weeks. The small-time managers looked with 
favor on the idea of the Rats running an independent circuit, for 
it gave them a freedom they couldn't get elsewhere, even with a 
payment of a weekly fee to the booking office (and a side fee to 
the booker to insure good service) which the union didn't charge. 


The Player started out with a lot of advertising, "but soon the 
acts (and even the commercial people) started to withdraw their 
ads because of the fear of being blacklisted. The blacklist was a 
horrible weapon, which was used freely by Mr. Albee. An act would 
suddenly find itself turned down by agents and managers, and yet 
didn't know it was blacklisted. There were a half a dozen acts that 
swore they were going to kill Albee for taking away their livelihood, 
They were talked out of it by their fellow actors. Albee had many 
spies in the White Rats, who reported everything that was said 
and done. He also had spies on bills who sent in reports on the 
acts as to how they felt toward the White Rats and the booking 
office; they were paid off with steady bookings. The White Rats 
knew who these people were^ as there were people in the booking 
office that didn't like Albee and were tipping the Rats off to what 
was going on in the office. (A pretty mess, eh?) None of the 
White Rats would wear their buttons; that was a sure invitation 
for the blacklist. 

After four years they had to give up The Player, and Variety 
offered them a few pages every week to tell their story and announce 
meetings, etc., without any charge and also without in any way 
changing their own editorial policy, which was anti-White Rat, 
although it was Sime who originally told the actors to organize to 
fight the U.B.O. But Sime never liked Mountford, whom he 
thought too much of a rabble rouser and a hothead, and wanted to 
see somebody cooler leading the actors. It was funny reading the 
Variety in those days, first reading a few pages panning Albee, the 
V.M.P.A., and Variety, then you'd turn a few pages and read 
Sime's editorial against the White Rats, then a few pages of ads 
from the U.B.O. and V.M.P.A. telling how good they were and 
how terrible the White Rats and Mountfoid were. 

In 1912 the White Rats were very powerful and had a large 
enough membership to open a new clubhouse on West Forty-sixth 
Street, which was financed by many of the members buying bonds. 
It was one of the finest clubhouses in America, Everything was 
going along fine. The Rats had a 5 per cent commission bill passed 
at Albany, gave a lot of Scampers (that's what they called their 
entertainments), and kept taking pot shots at the managers, until 
1916, when the lid finally blew offl 

They called a few strikes, one in Oklahoma, then in Boston, and 
then in tbe Loew theaters in New York City. They helped the 

Lefty's Letters * 

stagehands by walking out when they were fighting for a uiron 
shop. When they got It they walked back to work and left the 
White Rats In the cold. There was a lot of rough stuff, stink 
bombs, etc. 

A funny thing happened at the Scollay Square Theatre in Boston 
during the strike there. The management got a lot of "coast 
defenders" (actors who just played clubs, etc., in and around Bos- 
ton) and told them that they would be set for a big route at big 
dough if they would go on. There was this one guy who hadn't 
been on the stage for years, and It all sounded good to him. In the 
front row there were a dozen big husky acrobats wafting for the 
scabs to appear. This fellow opened with a song which started, 
"Well, well, well, I just came from the West . . ." when he saw 
the acrobats sitting glaring at him from the first row. He took one 
look and sang, "And Tm going right back again!" He walked off 
the stage and right out of the stage door and never came back! But 
there were plenty of scabs who didn't scare. 

The strike was a bad flop! 

It cost the managers a couple of million dollars to break the 
strike. So they started to organize a vaude actors' club to fight the 
Rats. It wasn't very hard to get some actors to "front" it. They 
used the finest bait In the world, "a good route at good money" 
. . . few could resist biting. They called it the National Vaudeville 
Artists, better known later as the N.V.A. (some wag said N.V.A. 
stood for Never Vex Albee). To make sure of getting members, 
Albee Issued an order that before you could get your contracts for 
any of the VJVLP.A. (Vaudeville Managers Protective Association) 
houses (which practically covered all of vaude), you would have 
to give up your membership in the Rats and be a member in good 
standing in the N.V.A. To make it double sure, they hired an 
apartment directly opposite the White Rats' clubhouse, checked 
all those who were going in, and quickly put them on the blacklist. 

Soon the members got wise to what was being done, and little 
by little the attendance fell off, the dues stopped coming in, and 
the club had to take a mortgage of $5,000 on its furnishings. That 
soon was spent, and the bank made them a proposition: they had 
a "certain party" that would take over the property and even pay 
the clubhouse debts. The Rats had to take it. It turned out later 
that the "certain party" was Albee, who paid off the bondholders 


(which legally he didn't have to do, as the Rats were bankrupt). 
He also supervised a complete renovating job cm the already beau- 
tiful clubhouse, and in about six months they had a new opening 
of the N.V.A. clubhouse. He really had made it even more beauti- 
ful than it was, a lot of spic and splendor, plenty of red and 
marble. It had 106 sleeping rooms which rented for $1.50 to $3.00 
a day, swimming pool, etc. It was so swanky that they claim the 
acrobats came in walking on their hands! 

Everybody in show biz was there opening night. You just had to 
be there, as noses were being counted (especially the noses of the 
"name acts ?? ) y and if you didn't show up, you stood a good chance 
of losing your route (if you had one). It was funny that the only 
picture in the whole place was a picture of George M. Cohan with 
an autograph reading, "To my first Boss, with all kinds of good 
wishes George M. Cohan, March 17, 1919." I say it's funny that a 
picture given to Albee should be shown, when it was supposed to 
be an actors 9 clubl 

As secretary Albee stuck in an old vaude actor, Henry Chester- 
field, who ran the club as per Albee's orders. Albee gave the actors 
a play-or-pay contract, with plenty of fanfare. A few months later 
he put back the cancellation clause without fanfare. He set up a 
committee of actors and managers to hear the actors* beefs against 
the managers and the complaints of actors against other acts that 
stole their material. (The decisions were mostly against the man- 
agers in the cases concerning them.) Albee gave tremendous bene- 
fit shows, running in four houses at one time with hundreds of top 
acts. He had the baskets passed in every vaude house in America 
during the N.V.A. week, when extra acts would go on for free 
(advertised and boosting biz) and make a plea to the audience to 
give to the N.V.A., which was taking care of the poor actors. (Can 
you imagine making the public support his company union?) He 
made the actors advertise in the special programs for these affairs. 
They had to take space according to their salaries. All these things 
brought in millions of dollars. In 1916 there was $3,500,000 in the 
Fund from these benefits, collections, and programs. A private 
joke among acts those days was that after the N.V.A. collections 
all the managers and ushers had new suits. You see, there was no 
check-up; the ushers would go through a dark theater with an open 
basket after each show, which they turned over to the manager, 

Lefty's Letters 3* 6 

who In ton sent it to the main office, who in turn turned it over 
to the N.V.A. Nobody checked what the main office received- 
catch on? 

Albee gave members a $1,000 death benefit. (Duffy & Sweeney 
wired the N.V.A., "We died here at the matinee, please send 
$1,000.") Albee would sign the check (he had no official office in 
the club, in fact at that time he wasn't even a member), and have 
it photostated and printed in all the trade papers, with a copy of 
tie letter of condolence he sent to the nearest of kin. In 1930 he 
opened the N.V.A. lodge at Saranac (original idea of William 
M orris) which was for members of the theatrical profession suffer- 
ing from TB. He also started the Vaudeville News, with Walter 
Winchell as a columnist (his first job as such), which he believed 
would put Variety out of business. (He also backed the Star,, a 
trade paper, to fight Variety.) Albee spent all this dough without 
consulting the board of directors; it was a one-man organization* 
He later decided to admit lay members and agents and bookers 
and managers and their friends. They were blackjacked into mem- 
bership as the actors had been. It got so the members were afraid 
to talk in the clubhouse because they feared there were dictaphones 
in the Joint. There were human dictaphones! 

In 1934 the White Rats, who went "underground" and tried to 
get by with a 5 per cent levy on the salaries of the few faithful, 
had to call it a day, as they couldn't show the AFL any dues-paying 
members, so they gave up their charter to Equity, Years later the 
American Federation of Actors (which originally started as an anti- 
benefit group you were veep, so should know about it) received 
the charter from Equity for vaudeville and night clubs; it was the 
first vaude actors 7 union in fifteen years. (Now it is called the 
American Guild of Variety Artists and has jurisdiction over night 
clubs and what is left of vaude.) 

When vaude got real bad, Albee lost interest in the N.V.A.; he 
didn't need it anymore, and neither it nor anything else could 
hurt vaude any more than it was already hurt. The N.V.A. had to 
give up its beautiful clubhouse and take up quarters a few doors 
up the street, and after a few years they took over the Friars' 
rooms in the Edison Hotel Annex Building, when the Friars moved 
to their new home on West Fifty-sixth Street. The N.V.A. walked 
out of their clubhouse cursing Albee. He never forgave them for it, 
and when he died he didn't leave them a penny. 


The N.V.A. managed to get along without Albee r not In big- 
time style, bat with more self-respect. They give a show annually 
that brings in enough dough to keep themselves going. The dues 
are reasonable and they enjoy playing cards and checkers, and 
exchanging memories. It's a great place for the old-time vaude 
acts, many of whom were originally WMte Rats. Funny, eh? or 
is it? SEZ 

Your pal, 


Dear Joe, 

To say that somebody in vaudeville was the first to do a certain 
act, gag, or piece of business is sticking your neck out further than 
a giraffe! It is a lot different in show biz than in any other business 
where you can definitely trace the beginning, like a patent. The 
same goes for law and medicine, but in vaude you can go back in 
research just so far. You don't have much chance of tracing back 
to someone who originated something and didn't get to New York 
with it (which is practically the patent office of show biz) to show 
it to the bookers, audiences, and actors. Somebody else who beat 
them to it would have received credit for being first, because he 
had a chance to show it on Big Time, while the originator was 
doing it on small time and wasn't seen or noticed. 

There have been many instances where the originator had to 
cut his own material out of his act to keep from being called a 
pirate. Taylor Holmes is a case in point. He was one of the first 
to do Kipling's poem, "Gunga Din/' and he did it very well. He was 
asked by the Keith office to please cut it out of his act on the 
circuit, because Clifton Crawford, a new headliner, depended on 
the poem for the finish of his act Naturally, Taylor Holmes cut it 
out (rather than maybe lose his route) for about six months, and 

Lefty's Letters 318 

then decided to put It back in his act, and everybody (Including 
'trade papers, who should have known better) accused him of 
"copying" Clifton Crawford, who by now was identified with 
"Gunga Din 77 (which, by the way, he really did great). Taylor 
Holmes stopped using It. 

What you can do in mentioning "firsts" is to say that a certain 
act was Identified with It. There Is no doubt that many acts known 
for such special things were the originators. Naturally they, like 
anyone else, must have got the idea from something else, because 
there aie very few things new, especially In show biz I 

Will Mahoney's dancing on a xylophone with hammers fastened 
to his shoes was new, because there is no record of anybody doing 
that particular thing before him; but there were dancers who 
danced with brashes on their feet, also with buckets and snowshoes. 
Nothing like dancing on a xylophone, you say? But to a showman 
that would be merely a "switch," to which me and Aggie don't 
agree. Stair dancing was done years before Bill "Bojangles" Robin- 
son, but Bill put a new twist to it and added great showmanship, 
and all the others are forgotten. If Al Leach (a great artist) could 
come back today and do his stair dance (which he did about 
twenty years before Bill), everybody would accuse him of taking 
It from Bill. Harry Bichman, who was on radio many years before 
Jolson, established himself with his own style of singing, and when 
Jolson went on the radio, he was accused by many people of 
"copying" Bichman's style. Edison invented the phonograph in 
1877, but there was a guy called Leon Scott who invented a 
"phonautograph" in 1857. Edison improved on it and nobody ever 
heard of Scott. See what I mean? 

So when I mention the following firsts, you will know what I 
mean. Many of them originated what they were doing, many of 
them revived something that had been forgotten for twenty-five 
years or more and so were credited for being original, but most of 
'em put a new "twist" to it which made it practically an original. 
After years of research, I want to say that you'd be surprised to 
learn how few things are "original" in show biz todayl 

Here are a few that you may find interesting. 

1792: Team of Placide & Martin did somersaults over tables and 


1850: Bibs & Bibs known as "Family Affairs/* was the oldest comedy 
skit. Later revived by Mr. & Mrs. Harry Thome, the first to do It 
In variety. 

1864: Nick Norton & Billy Emmett and Sheridan & Mack were the 
first to do a double Dutch act. The latter did "Helnrich's 
Return" or "The Emigrants." 

1865: First real double Irish act was done by McNulty & Murray, 

"The Boys from Limerick" (long before Harry & John Kernell) . 

1869: Jim Kehoe Invented the Kehoe Clubs (used in swinging 

1870: Harry Montague did the first double-entendre act. 

1872: Walter Wentworth did the first contortion act in variety. 

Hugh Dougherty and Ad Ryman were the first to do "stump 
speeches" in variety. (Done earlier in minstrel shows.) 
Colonel Burgess was the first to wear big comedy shoes. 
Sam Rickey was a bit ahead of the original Pat Rooney as the 
first well-known Irish comic, but Pat Rooney was the first to be 
recognized as a star. 

1875: Maggie Weston Introduced the first "Irish biddy" In variety. 
Sandford & Wilson were one of the first comedy musical acts. 
The French Twins and the Raymond Sisters were the first sister 

The first blackface quartette was called the "Hamtown Stu- 

John Le Clair was one of the first single jugglers in variety. 
The original comedy acrobatic act was performed by Johnson & 

1874: The first German comedians appeared; they were Gus Wil- 
liams, George S. Knight, and Lew Spencer. (Gus Williams was 
De Witt Cook did a club-juggling act. 

1876: E. M. Hall was considered the greatest of all banjo players. 
Frank Bush, Howard & Thompson, and Sam Curtis started the 
"Jew comic" craze. (All were non-Jewish.) 

Jimmy Bradley originated the sand-jig dance and Kitty O'Neill 
was first woman to do it. 

Lefty's Letters *** 

1877: First real sketch artists were John and Maggie Fielding, 
followed by Charles Rogers and Mattie Vickers- 

1877: The Original Foot Kings, Emerson, Clark, and the Daly 
Bros., were first to do kicking at objects, such as hats, cigar boxes, 
tambourines, etc. 
The Poole Bros, did the first acrobatic clog dance. 

1878: Gus Hill was the first outstanding club swinger. 
Jap & Fanny Delano were the first outstanding man and woman 
talking act. 

First water-tank act, such as eating under water, was Wallace, 
the "Man Fish." 
Lurline was the first woman performing an underwater tank act. 

1879: Maggie Cline was the first single-woman comedy Irish singer. 
Fanny Beane, Millie, and the Barretts did the first "lady" song 
and dance acts. 

First variety children stage artists were Baby Rhinehart, Little 
Rosebud, Baby McDonald, and Master Dunn. 
First male singing trio was the Three Rankins. 
Bunth & Rudd did a double comedy magic act. 

1880: Imro Fox was the first single comedy magician, 
James F. Hoey ("Old Hoss' 7 Hoey & Evans) was the first "nut" 

Ryan & Ryan did a burlesque boxing bit; so did McNish & John- 
son, Gallagher & Griffin, Casey & Reynolds, and McCabe & 
Emrnett. Miller & Lyles came years later and revived it. Moran 
& Mack took it from them. 

1881: Carrie Swain was the first woman in blackface to do a 
knockabout acrobatic act. 

1884: Weber & Fields first did an Irish act dressed in short 
breeches, including paper tearing, and clog dancing. They ap- 
peared between acts of a melodrama at the old Windsor Theatre 
on the Bowery. 

1885: Leon, William Henry Rice, Charles Heywood, and Lind? 
were the first of the female impersonators. 
Lottie Gilson was the first to have a singing "plant" in the audi- 
ence, also first to sing to a "baldheaded" man in the audience, 


kter shining mirror on his head, etc. (She did this act tip to 

1886: Johnny Lorenze (Cook & Lorenze) did first torkey trot in 
barrooms with Guy Hawley. Guy Hawley was the first to do a 
%reak" on the piano. 

1886: First buck dancing done in burly by Johnny Jess (he also 
played in variety). 

Bert Williams first to ptill expression, "If s a bear"; he danced on 
sidewalks of Denver, when the turkey trot was called the "Denver 
Rocking table first done by Caroll & Nealey, the "Nickelplated 
Coons"; they used two tables and a barrel Afterwards done by 
Sully & Nealey, also Buckley & Dwyer. But it was Bert Melrose 
who made it famous. 

First comedy piano act done by Charlie Thatcher; he did it as 
a specialty in the pit for his overture in Denver. Will H. Fox 
was the first to do a comedy piano act on the stage, followed by 
Tom Waters. 

1888: Blockson & Burns did a comedy perch act (suspended from 
a wire, doing all kinds of impossible stunts) . Collins & Hart came 
later and made it famous all over the world. 
The American Four were considered the greatest quartette; it 
consisted of two famous two-man acts who doubled up. Wayne & 
Lovely, Cotton & Bedue; and the Big Four, same type of act, 
came later and also were great, with Lester & Allen and Smith & 

The first "Tddding" act and "topical songsters" were Lester & 

Lew Randall was the first buck-and-wing dancer. 
Dainty Katie Seymour (of London) was the first "skirt" dancer. 

Charles Guyer & Nellie O'Neill were the first "roughhouse" 

t * 


Delahanty & Hengler were the first to do "neat" Irish song and 


Professor Davis and Tiovollo were the first ventriloquists to 

introduce the mechanical walking and talking figures. 

The first "electrical clown" was Henr Tholen; he sang with a 


Lefty's Letters 322 

Topack & Steele were the first knockabout comedians. 

Major Burke was the original lightning-drill artist with musket 

and bayonet. 

Melville & Stetson, a sister act, were first to do imitations. 

Lester & Williams, Arthur O'Brien, Lew Carroll, Joe Flynn (he 

wrote "Down Went McGinty") of Sheridan & Flynn, and Harry 

& John Dillon started the parody craze. (Hoey & Lee came later.) 

Caron & Herbert were the first acrobatic clowns in variety. 

The Borani Brothers (Englishmen) were the first to do a certain 

somersault known as the "Borani somersault." 

The Garnella Brothers were first to do the "shoulder to shoulder" 


The Sigrist Family were the first American acrobatic troupe. 

The Bohee Bros, were first to do a double banjo song-and-dance 


Harper & Stencil were the first double one-legged song-and-dance 

men. Harper had his right leg off, while Stencil had his left leg 

off. They wore the same size shoes and would buy just one pair 

for both of them. 

Yeamans & Titus (Annie Yeamans* daughter) did one of the first 

piano acts. 

Jolly Nash and John W. Kelly were the first extemporaneous 


George Cain did the first "smoke 7 ' singing; he would put the full 

lighted cigar in his mouth while singing, and the smoke would 

come out of his mouth. The song he sang was "While I'm 


George Wilson introduced the first "laughing song/' 

Harry G. Richmond was the first to do a "tramp" act. 

Kelly & Murphy did the first boxing act on the stage in variety. 
1895: Lumiere's Motion Pictures were first shown in Keith's Union 

Square Theatre. 
1898: First continuous vaude at Keith's in Boston. Next year 

Proctor did it at the Twenty-third Street Theatre, beating Keith 

to it in New York. 

1906: J. Royer West and Van Siclyn used sandwich men to adver- 
tise their acts to agents in front of the St. James Building and 


in front of Hammerstein's. Laurie & Aleen did it yean later at 
the American Theatre, as did Bob Hope and other acts. 
1907: First "family vaudeville." 

Harry Sefton and O'Brien Havel were among the first to do 
"drunken" acrobatic rolls. 

George Primrose was the first to wear different colored evening 

First barefoot dancer in vaude was Mildred Howard De Gray. 
1908: The Hawaiian Trio (with Toots Papka) was the first to 
introduce the steel guitar. 

Toots Papka was the first Hawaiian dancer in vaude. 
1909: Chuck Conners, in an act at Loew's Columbia, Brooklyn, 
first used the expression, "gorilla/ 7 meaning a tough guy or 

Harrison Brockbank was first to do Kipling's Barrack-Room 
Ballads in New York. 

Henry E. Dixie was first comedian to do a burlesque on ballet. 

Bickle & Watson were first to do burlesque music. 

Billy Gould was first to do "conversational song and dance/' 

telling gags while dancing with gal. 
1920: Belle Baker was first to do "Eli, Eli" in vaude. Allan Rogers 

was the first tenor to do it in vaude. 

Brendel & Burt were first to do duet with phonograph record; 

Brendel did lip movements to Tetrazzini's singing. 

The first act doing double talking with a phonograph was done 

by Richard Craig 7 Sr. 

1921: Reeder & Armstrong were about the first double piano act. 
1922: Aileen Stanley was first on stage with a radio outfit and 


1924: Roland Hayes was first Negro to do a concert. (Jules Bled- 

soe of Francis & Bledsoe was second.) 
1929: Charlie Freeman was the originator of the intact rotating 

units for the Inter-State and Keith Circuits. 

And here are a few odds and ends: 

The Barlow Brothers and Girard Bros, were the originators of 
the double sand-jig dancing. 

Lefty's Letters 324 

Fred Hillebrand (& Vera Michelina) was the first to use, "Give 
the little girl a hand!" It was taken by Texas Guinan, who said 7 
"Give the little girl a big hand!" and became famous for it! 
Shooting finishes and black-outs,, which so many acts and revues 
used, was done by the Byrnes Bros, in "Eight Bells" way back in 
the ? gos, 

Joe Hyman (Hyman & Franklin) was the writer of and the first 
to do "Cohen on the Telephone." This American act spent over 
forty years playing in England, where it is still a big hit. 
Benny Fields (not Rudy Vallee) was the first to sing through a 
megaphone on stage. 

Blossom Seeley was the first to start the finger-snapping style of 
singing syncopation. 

Clarice Vance had the first mirror dress. Mindil Kingston (World 
& Kingston) wore a cloak with mirrors in Follies of 1910. Miss 
Vance sued. Miss Kingston claimed her father invented it over 
40 years before (1870), that mirror dresses was the natural evolu- 
tion from mirror held in the hand against a spotlight for flirta- 
tion numbers. Miss Vance won, by proving there were no spot- 
lights in thosp days. 
Jack Norworth was the first actor to write a column for Variety. 

This will give you an idea of some of the "firsts" in variety and 
vaude. I mentioned many more in my other letters to you 7 which 
you can add to this list if you want to. 

There were many arguments in vaude as to "firsts/ 7 There were 
two acrobats who claimed they were the first to use colored hand- 
kerchiefs to wipe off the perspiration, instead of the regular white 
ones used by all other acrobatic acts. So you can Just imagine. 

Me and Aggie never did hear anyone claim that they were the 
first to kill vaudeville, and believe me, a lot of 'em could have 
claimed it and been right. SEZ 

YOUT pal, 



Accompanied by 

Dear Joe, 

If you were any kind of a vaude fan, yon must have heard some 
act reciting Robert W. Service's "Spell of the Yukon/' With an 
amber spot and a red bandana around his neck to lend atmosphere, 
he'd go into: 

Ragtime Kid was having a drink, 
There was no one else on the stool, 
And the stranger stumbled across the room 
And flopped down like a fooL 

In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt 
He sat and I seen him sway, 
With a talon hand he clutched the keys, 
God, but the man could play!" Etc., etc. 

The audience would settle back and recite word for word with 
the actor. 

Hartley Claude Myrick was the original "ragtime kid 7 ' of the 
poem; he passed on a few years ago in Seattle, Washington, at the 
age of 65. When he was a young man, he played piano in all 
the honky-tonks from Nome to Chilkoot Pass and was known as the 
Ragtime Kid. His passing brings to mind many of the "ragtime 
kids" who were so important to vaude in its heyday. They first 
started out as just piano players; then when they got a bit more 
important they were billed, "at the piano, Mr. So-and-So," and 
when vaude got real classy, it copied from the concert stage and 
billed them as "accompanists." Often they became part of die act 
and sometimes the best part of it. 

Back in the 19205 it was estimated that one third of all the vaude 
acts had a piano player. Many times there were so many piano acts 
on one bill that they followed each other, which made it nice for 
the second piano player, who inherited warm keys. 

At first the piano player got no billing; he would sneak onto the 
stage in the dark while the act he was playing for was in the spot- 

Lefty's Letters 32S 

ligjht, and at the finish he would sneak off the way he came on. 
Some of them were loaned to the star by the publishing house to 
help pot over its songs. Then when single singers found it was 
better to cam- a piano player than to depend on orchestras, they 
started to bill them. 

Where piano players came from and where they went to, no one 
knows and no one seems to care. About one in every ten piano 
players in vaude w T as a musician or entertainer, whose business was 
p:aiio playing. Many of these later became recognized composers, 
mostly of pop songs. But many of them played by ear, and when 
they didn't do that, they knew enough "classical" music to get by 
with the audience. While the gal was making a change, the piano 
player had to do a solo or specialty. Some were tricksters, like 
playing with one hand, or playing standing on their heads, or play- 
ing "Dixie" with the left hand and "Yankee Doodle" with the 
light, "'both simultaneously/' as they would announce it. And 
others would play "Alexander's Ragtime Band" as different com- 
posers might have written it. 

Piano players were an easy lot. They didn't care if the piano was 
set in a wood scene or at the end of a stream or even a street; the 
backdrop was immaterial to the piano player. He could play any- 
where. He was satisfied as long as the gallery boys left him alone, 
which was sometimes hard for a gallery to do, especially when he 
was dressed in tails or a near-fitting tux to kinda classy up the act. 
When playing at the Jefferson on East Fourteenth Street, Loew's 
Delancey Street, or the Colonial, a piano player would take no 
chances and would wear street clothes, which many times was just 
as funny! 

Single women used up more piano players than anybody else. 
With a. single woman he had a heavier job than just accompanying. 
He would take care of the railroad and hotel reservations, check 
the baggage, collect the salary, pay out the tips, take care of the 
rehearsals and props, and maybe bring up coffee to the lady with 
the morning mail, and sometimes ended by marrying the gal. 

Nora Bayes had about the most piano players of anyone during 
her vaude career. She had such great accompanists as Harry Akst 
(who accompanied Al Jolson on all his GI tours), Lou Alter, Gus 
Klienecke, Bernard Fairfax, Seymour Simon, Robert Goldie, Abel 
Baer (writer of "Mother's Eyes"), the great George Gershwin, Ted 
Shapiro, Edmund Goulding (later to become a famous Hollywood 


director), Eddie Weber, Leo Edwards, Dudley Wilkinson, and 
Dave Stamper (composer for many Follies). Irene Bordoni was 
her closest ninner-op 7 using Loo Grandi, Mattie Levine, Lou Alter, 
Leo Edwards, Gitz Rice, Eddie Weber, Leon Vavarra, and Mel- 
ville Ellis to play for her. Anna Chandler had Eddie Fitzgerald, 
Lester Lee, Arthur Samuels,, and Sydney Landfield (now a Holly- 
wood producer). Marion Harris had Billy Griffith, Jessie Greer, 
Phil Goldberg (her first husband), Lou Handman, J. Russell 
Robinson, and Eddie Weber. 

Eva Tanguay started in 1896 with George M. Fenberg; he was 
her director-pianist. She never used a piano on stage, as she needed 
all the room she could get. Her piano players would work in the 
pit, mostly as director, and of course would play for her rehearsals. 
She had Jack Stern, Charlie Seville, Al Pardo (her husband), and 
Eddie Weber, who played for her for ten years a record with Eva! 
Sophie Tucker had Slim Pressler, Al Siegel, Jack Carroll, and Ted 
Shapiro. Ted has been with her for over twenty-five years, which 
makes him the dean of all accompanists of lady singles. 

Among the men singles, Frank Fay used up plenty of ivory 
ticklers, like Harry Akst, Adam Carroll, Dave Dwyer, Clarence 
Gaskill, and Gitz Rice. And Harry Fox as a single (and when play- 
ing with Beatrice Curtis) had Harry De Costa, Harry Gray, Lew 
Pollack, Jean Schwartz, Charlie Seville, and Eddie Weber. 

Leo Edwards and Eddie Weber are about tops for the number 
of acts they played for. Leo's list has names like Lillian Russell, 
Andrew Mack, George Primrose, Ralph Hertz, Clark & Bergman, 
Grace LaRue, Fanny Brice, Kitty Gordon, Orville Harold, Marie 
Dressier, Cissie Loftus, Bunny Granville, Marie Cahill, Adelaide & 
Hughes, Bessie Wynn, Mabel McCane, Nora Bayes, John Charles 
Thomas, Marie Tempest, and Irene Bordoni to his credit. Eddie 
Weber is right up there with names like Eva Tanguay, Adelaide & 
Hughes, Harry Fox & Beatrice Curtis, Whiting & Burt, Marion 
Harris, Fanny Brice, the Cameron Sisters, Karyl Norman, Ruth 
Roland, Irene Bordoni, Carter De Haven & Flora Parker, Nora 
Bayes, Cross & Dunn, John L. Fogarty, Fanny Ward, Ann Sey- 
mour, Frank DeVoe, and Estelle Taylor. 

You will notice that the vaude piano players were interchange- 
able and had a great turnover. Some only wanted to play for acts 
around New York. Acts would change piano players because of 
temperament, or with single women because "love" had entered 

Lefty's Letters 328 

the picture* or for a dozen other reasons. When an act went bad, 
they'd always blame it on the piano player, but in the old days a 
good one could always get a job. 

To mention just a few of the boys who were tops at "thumping 
the box," there were Clarence Gaskill, Harry Akst, Jerry Jamegan, 
Burt Green, Mike Bernard, Lou Alter, Ernie Ball, Lew Pollack, 
Lou Handman, Harry Richman, Harold Aden, Martin Broones, 
Halsey Mohr, Jimmy Steiger, Andy Byrnes, }. Fred Coots, Adam 
Carroll, Abel Baer ? Con Conrad, Fred Clinton, Harry De Costa, 
Vincent Lopez, Joe Santley, Raymond Walker, Elmore White, 
Harry Tighe, Willie White, Clarence Senna, Eddie Moran, Harry 
Carroll, Joe Daly, Sidney Franklin, Mel Morris, Martin Freed,, 
Billy Griffith, Jack Joyce, Arthur Johnson, Gitz Rice, Charlie 
Straight, Cliff Friend, Al Siegel, Jack Denny, Cliff Hess, Arthur 
Freed, Abner Silver, Henry Marshall, George Gershwin, and Jerome 
Kern, who played for Edna Wallace Hopper when he was a publish- 
ing-house staff writer, salesman, and piano player! 

Among the women accompanists were Emma Adelphi (the late 
Mrs. Jack Norworth), who played for Jack, Billy Glason, and was 
the partner of Janet Adair. Mildred Brown played for Rae Samuels 
and Marguerite Young; Edyth Baker played for Harry Fox; and 
the great Hfldegarde played for Wait Hoyt, Mickey Cochrane, 
Dora "Boots" Early, and the DeMarcos, until she decided to play 
and sing herself into stardom. Lou Silvers, Mile. Henrietta Henri, 
and Florence Kingsley played for Eddie Miller. Dolly Jordan had 
Theo Lightner (who was also part of the Lightner Sisters and 
Alexander act) play for her. Rae Samuels had Mildred Land and 
Bea Walker as pianists. The gal stuck to their jobs longer than the 
average male accompanist. 

When vaude fell apart, many of the piano players did very well 
writing hit songs, and others spread around cafes and night clubs. 
Many, too many, have changed their piano for a harp! 

Of all the old-time vaude accompanists, there are still two who 
are working at their trade and doing great. Ray Walker (writer of 
"Good Night, Nurse" and other songs), who played for Sophie 
Tucker, Mae West, and Marie Fenton when they first started, and 
who has played everything from the Chatham Club in New York's 
Chinatown to vaude and then to night clubs, now at the age of 
seventy is still accompanying the future greats in the plush cafes 


of Florida. The other is Ted Shapiro, rounding out over a quarter 
of a century with the indestructible Sophie Tucker. 

They were a great bunch who helped many an act to get over, 
playing on vaude pianos, some of which were tuned, and what 
would us guys have done when we went out after the show at night 
for fun if we hadn't been "accompanied by . . ." the boys who 
furnished the "mood music"? SEZ 

Your pd r 










Antonio (Tony) Pastor, known as the godfather of vaudeville, 
was born on Greenwich Street, New York City, on May 28, 1832. 
Some claim he wasn't Italian but was of New England stock on 
his mother's side and had a Spanish father who was supposed to 
have been a great violinist. Nobody ever really knew and Tony 
Pastor never spoke about it. 

We do know that his first appearance was at the age of six, at 
the Dey Street Church, singing duets with C. B. Woodruff. In 
1846 he joined Barnum's Museum, where he corked up and played 
tambourine and was in the minstrel band. The next year he be- 
came a minstrel man, then followed that by becoming an appren- 
tice with John J. Nathan's Circus. It was in this circus that he 
first sang comic songs. He made his debut in the arena that fall 
at Welsh's National Amphitheatre in Philadelphia. 

When the ringmaster, Neil Jamison, died, he was succeeded by 
Tony, who became the youngest ringmaster in all of the circus biz! 
He wrote an act called "Peasant's Frolic," which later became 
popular under the name of "Peter Jenkins." It was a rural char- 
acter acting stewed who, after a lot of cross-fire talk with the ring- 
master (or some other performer) and many prat falls, finally 
stripped to tights and did a riding act. (This bit was used in circuses 
for many years.) He also tumbled with the acrobats and danced 
^Lucy Long" in the minstrel show. (All circuses had minstrel 
shows in those days.) In 1851 he was at the Bowery Amphitheatre 
at 37 Bowery, where he was ringmaster and also acted in dramatic 
skits for the first time. In 1857 he became a clown at the Nixon 
Palace Gardens in New York. 

In 1860 he made his variety stage debut at Frank River's 
Melodeon in Philadelphia, and decided to quit the circus and 
adopt variety as a permanent profession. Back in New York, he 
was a comic vocalist at the Broadway Music Hall (formerly Wal- 


These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 334 

lack's Theatre, OB Broadway near Broome Street) when It was 
first opened on March 22, 1861. Tony stayed there for a year. He 
then went to his own place at 444 Broadway and stayed until 
1865. It was a honky-tonk, offering beer, wine, liquor, and a few 
hostesses. The only name the place had was 444! In 1865 he and an 
old minstrel man by the name of Sam Sharpley took over Volk's 
Garden at 201 Bowery. They fixed it up and named it Pastor's 
Opera House, and successfully managed it for ten years. 

At that time the East Side of New York was the popular resi- 
dential section and more purely American than any section in the 
city. The door plates of the old Knickerbocker families were on 
thousands of homes. Pastor invited the women to come in to see 
his variety show. Up to this time variety had played to strictly stag 
audiences and some of the gals who came in "to rest their feet"; it 
was pretty hard to get nice women and children to see Pastor's 

Tony tried coaxing 'em in by giving out bonbons, dolls, and 
flowers, and set Fridays apart as Ladies' Night, when husbands 
brought their wives and young men their sweethearts free of charge. 
This didn't get over so good, so he tried more material arguments, 
giving away bags of flour, packages of coffee, tons of coal, hams, 
and even sewing machines, but this didn't get the gals either. But 
when he announced that on a certain day he would give away 
twenty-five silk dresses he got 'em! Macy's on a bargain day wasn't 
in it! You could always reach a woman with a dress (of course you 
could do pretty good with a mink coat, too) . The next thing Pastor 
gave away was bonnets; with the aid of some milliners he dis- 
played twenty-five hats of the latest fashion, and it took twenty- 
five cops to keep the gals in line. There was no vaudeville about 
that it was just plain variety. His business prospered. (Funny 
that almost seventy-five years later other showmen thought of the 
same idea, when they ran Country Store Nights, Bank Nights, 
Dish Nights, etc., and radio and TV weren't far behind with their 
Break the Bank, Winner Take All, and even once gave away an 
announcer for a week end. New stuff, eh?) 

It was at this time that Pastor got the idea of organizing a 
variety road show while his house was closed for the summer. He 
started out at Paterson, New Jersey (his first trip as a manager), 
with Tony Pastor's Own Company. There were other traveling 
companies at the time, but Pastor had a real fine variety show with 


plenty of comedy, and it was a big success playing high-class 
theaters at high prices. He increased his annual tours from three 
months to six months and played every prominent town on the 
map. He Erst visited New England, then extended his tours to the 
West, and finally to California. While in New York he played 
two weeks to big biz at Laura Keene's former house, the Olympic, 
several weeks at the Grand Opera House, the Academy of Music, 
and Hammerstein's Columbus Theatre in Harlem. (This later was 
known as Proctor's iz5th Street.) 

Having thus opened the way in getting first-class patronage, his 
lead was quickly followed. John B. Haverly, one of America's 
greatest showmen, established a grand variety house in Chicago, 
the Adelphi; John Stetson, the Howard in Boston; Colonel Sim, 
the Park Theatre in Brooklyn; and many more. 

It was on October 24, 1881, that Pastor opened his Fourteenth 
Street Theatre in the Tammany Hall Building. New York never 
had a theater just like Pastor's. There was something about it, call 
it atmosphere or whatever you want, but it was "different" than 
any other theater in America from 1881 to 1906. The theater really 
was opened in February, 1881, with parodies on Gilbert & Sullivan, 
like "The Pie-Rats of Pen-Yan," but they didn't prove successful, 
so Pastor opened in October with a straight variety show that was 
as clean as a hound's tooth. The theater had a special distinction, 
a lot of which was contributed by Tony himself. He was a little 
man who wore boots with high heels and an opera hat, which he 
would open up with a snap and put on "cockily." He did it mostly 
to kinda cover up when he forgot his lyrics. He knew 1,500 songs. 
( I have never heard of a singer before or since that had that large 
a repertoire; Tommy Lyman is supposed to have 500 songs that he 
can sing at a moment's notice.) 

Tony Pastor had a very pleasant personality and loved variety 
actors and show biz in general. He was the only manager who was 
an honorary member of the White Rats. During all the forty years 
of his managerial career, Pastor never closed an act, and that was 
long before play-or-pay contracts. If a very bad act knew enough 
to quit at Pastor's, they were always paid in full! Tony was a very 
religions man (had a shrine backstage). He didn't pay big salaries 
unless he had to, and then it was only big for him and not com- 
parable to what other managers had to pay for the same acts. He 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 33 

couldn't very well compete with other managers, because his was 
a tiny house with less than 300 seats. 

If he liked your act, he would tell you that you could bring in 
your trunk any time you wanted to, and many did when they had 
an open week. They would just show up, and he would tell the boy 
to put out the name in the billing and on the stage cards. (Each 
act was announced by a card on an easel on the side of the stage.) 
James C. Morton (Morton & Moore) started as a card boy at 
Pastor's. Acts working at Pastor's didn't interfere with any other 
circuit, and Tony was particularly great for giving newcomers ad- 
vice, encouragement, and a chance. Pastor's in the early days was 
a very important "showing spot" for a new act. All the actors, 
agents and managers would be out front (the same as at the Palace 
and Hammerstein's in later years). All this made it possible for 
Pastor to get acts for much less than anybody else. 

When B. F. Keith opened the Union Square Theatre just a few 
blocks from Pastor's and charged 50 cents for a good seat in a 
beautiful little theater with many headliners and top acts, Pastor 
had to cut his prices from $1.00 down to 102030 cents, and he 
never could raise them again. Even at those prices, biz fell off; his 
old customers started to patronize the theaters uptown, but Pastor 
never could raise them again. Even at those prices, biz fell off; his 
Proctor, and "all those other fellers stand all that worry, running 
those big chains." (He always used the expression, "Jimenety," 
when he was excited; he never cursed.) 

This little gentleman who was so ambitious when a youngster 
had "cooled down' 7 and had no ambition for big theaters and big 
dough. He was satisfied with his tiny theater and to be able to go 
on once in awhile (toward the finish of Pastor's, he would only 
appear when he felt like it) and sing his songs. There were only 
six big vaude managers who had stage backgrounds: Martin Beck, 
who gave it up early and made a fortune; F. F. Proctor, who started 
as an acrobat, and also made millions; Percy Williams, who acted 
and also wrote plays but not for long, and left millions; Wilmer & 
Vincent, who spent about twenty years as variety artists and writers, 
then went into management and made many millions; and Tony 
Pastor, who made it possible for all of them to cash in with his idea 
of clean vaudeville, and who died on August 28, 1908, and left less 
than $6,000! 


He left more than money; lie left a good feeling in the hearts of 
all the people who knew him. 

There never lived, then or now, in or out of vaude, any better 
liked theatrical manager than Antonio (Tony) Pastor! 

Benjamin Franklin Keith 

Benjamin Franklin Keith, "born in Hilkboro Bridge, New Hamp- 
shire, in 1846, was said to have been originally a purser on a 
steamer, getting over into the show biz through die candy conces- 
sion on a circus for which E. F. Albee was the legal adjuster or 
"fixer." Laying over in Boston one winter (about 1883), he (in 
partnership with Colonel Austin) exhibited a prematurely born 
Negro baby, perhaps the first of the incubator baby shows, though 
there was no incubator available for the puny infant When the 
child grew too large to appeal to the curious, Keith suggested to 
his partner, George H. Bacheller, that they fit up the store into a 
dime museum. The venture was immediately successful, for the 
dime museum was then in its heyday of popularity. 

The layout of the museums was always tie same; a curio hall 
in which the crowd gathered for the next show, and a theater, 
where an hour's performance was given. There was magic in the 
name of "museum," for the very religious customers salved their 
consciences by pretending that it was really the museum they came 
to, and the theater, "that abode of the devil/' was merely inci- 
dental. Barnum had found that out years before, and the Boston 
Museum, eventually to become the home of classical drama, was 
already in the field, giving full-length plays (including one that 
has been running for the last sixteen years in California, The 
Drunkard)* The plays did two shows a day. Keith favored vaude- 
ville with a show running an hour. 

Keith found that many persons would ask at the box office when 
the next show started and, on being told that there would be a 

These Were the Kings and Rulers . . . 338 

wait of half an hour or more, would turn away, unwilling to spend 
the waiting time In the dreary curio hall. One Sunday morning he 
took space in the Boston papers to advertise the continuous per- 
formance. "Come when you please; stay as long as you like." The 
idea was so revolutionary that even his stage manager and lecturer, 
Sam K. Hodgdon, could not grasp the idea. Keith told him to go 
ahead and he would show him how it worked. 

Hodgdon opened the show with a brief lecture on some relics 
brought back by the Greeley Relief Expedition from the Arctic, 
When the first show was over, Keith told Hodgdon to go on again 
without clearing the house. Hodgdon protested that most of the 
people who had just seen him would walk out "I hope they do/* 
was Keith's reply, and Hodgdon got the idea. This made Sam K. 
Hodgdon the first "chaser" act in the business. Of course Barnum 
had a pretty good idea of how to get rid of many customers (many 
years before Keith) by putting up a sign reading "This way to the 
Egress" many of his customers thought it was some kind of an 
animal and, walking through the door, found themselves out on 
the street, 

Keith's idea worked well except on holidays, when the crowd had 
plenty of time and could stick around. It took a pretty strong guy 
to stand two hours of the sort of show Keith put on in those days, 
although he used a fair grade of acts, one of the most popular 
being Jerry & Helen Cohan (father and mother of Josephine and 
George ML). With growing prosperity, Keith elaborated his show 
and put on a comic opera troupe, handled by Milton Aborn (^ho 
was the leader in tabloid opera). The productions were mostly of 
Gilbert & Sullivan works, which were in public domain (no copy- 
right laws then). The idea clicked, but not as well as it should 
have, and Keith flashed an appeal to his old friend Albee to come 
and see what he could do. Albee cleaned up the front of the house 
(which had cages full of smelly animals) and business picked up. 
It picked up so well that Albee decided to try out his idea of a 
de luxe theater. Keith shied away (being pretty close with a buck) . 
Albee proposed building nothing short of a palace, and Keith could 
not see where the money was coming from. 

Always the dominant personality, Albee moved in on Keith, 
took the reins out of his hands, and arranged to build, mostly with 
money borrowed from the wealthy Catholic Diocese of Boston. 
To get this dough he had to assure the churchmen that the per- 


formance would be clean and unobjectionable, Keith's Colonial, 
Boston, was opened in 1893. It was Albee 7 rather than Keith, who 
carried cleanliness to an almost fanatical degree. Profanity and 
vulgarity were rigidly censored. It was reported that a well-known 
elocutionist, playing there, was ordered to cut from a Shakesperean 
selection the phrase, "And straight from the month of hell let 
loose the dogs of war/* She was told to substitute "hades/ 7 though 
she protested that she had read the lines, without protest, at hun- 
dreds of church events. It might be good enough for the churches, 
but Keith's was Keith's and Hell was Hell and never the twain 
should meet! (Or at least, not until many years later.) 

To insure supervision, the superintendent of one of the leading 
Sunday schools in Boston was hired to stand at the rear of the 
house, and any minor infraction resulted in a note being sent back- 
stage to the act and the stage manager. Church people approved, 
and the idea was plenty profitable until the era of nudity brought 
about an almost complete reversal of form. 

The Keith idea was extended to Providence, to Philadelphia, and 
eventually to New York, when Keith took over the Union Square 
Theatre, which up to then was the home of the legit stage. 

For a long time the out-of-town houses were no match for the 
sumptuous and beautiful Boston Theatre, but as Albee became 
more firmly entrenched in the saddle, he went upon an orgy of 
building, the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia being the 
second. And it was here that Keith and Albee met one of their few 
defeats. The old Bijou on Eighth Street was managed by a relative 
of Albee's, a fussy old guy whose chief complaint was that he 
could not train the people from Camden to use the aisle in making 
their exits from the gallery. They went over the backs of the seats, 
to his great distress. He had no drag with the newspapermen. But 
his assistant, Harry Jordan, was tremendously popular. Keith was 
having trouble with his building permit for the Chestnut Street 
house, and he propositioned Jordan to grease the wheels, in re- 
turn for which he was to be made the house manager. 

Jordan did a great job, but as the house neared completion, Keith 
told him regretfully that he was too young to be entrusted with so 
important a theater. Jordan said nothing, but in a week: or two a 
law was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature that all theaters 
not yet opened must have a lobby width equal to that of the rear 
of the auditorium. This would mean no license for the Keith house, 

These Were the Kings and Rulers . , . 340 

which had but a single frontage on Chestnut Street, and no chance 
to bay on either side. Jordan was called in again, the law was 
pigeonholed, and Jordan moved in as manager. 

Keith and Albee respected Jordan because he had licked them. 
They never had reason to regret his appointment. He stayed there 
until the inish of the two-a-day and became the best-liked manager 
on the circuit by the actors who played for him. He had a great 
idea to stop arguments about the star dressing room by naming 
them after states. There was no star dressing room at Keith's 
Chestnut Street, in Philadelphia. (It was also the first vaude theater 
in America that had the stage manager dressed in evening clothes 
long done in England.) 

Keith was a little man, both in stature and mentality. He had a 
curiously cold and colorless personality and he was petty in little 
things. He had no use for the people he could not buy and small 
use for them when he bought them. Epes W. Sargent (Chicot), 
the famous critic on Variety, refused a $100 bill offered to him by 
Keith and completely lost Keith's approval. If he could not be 
"tipped/ 7 he was to be feared! 

For years Keith hated F. F. Proctor, who had beat him into New 
York with continuous vaude. When the booking office was in the 
process of formation, Keith insisted that the meetings were to be 
held in Boston* The deal was practically set up when some of the 
managers insisted that F. F. Proctor be included. Keith refused, 
but eventually gave in, and Proctor was invited to come to Boston. 
Proctor said no, and it took a couple of more days to get Keith to 
consent to go to New York. Later, when the company was formed, 
Keith suggested to a newspaperman that he dictate his story in the 
Keith apartment, so he might supply any missing details. The 
invitation was accepted (the man was Chicot) and all went well 
until the writer dictated, "At this point, adjournment was taken 
to New York, to include F. F. Proctor in the negotiations." Keith 
was on his feet in an instant Two hours later, this compromise line 
was agreed on; "At this point, Mr. Keith having business in New 
York, adjournment was had to that city and F. F. Proctor was 
invited to sit in with the others." Keith's face had been saved, 
though everybody in show biz knew that Proctor had forced the 

When the first Mrs. Keith (Maiy Catherine Branley) died in 
1910, she left $500 each to four Catholic institutions and the rest 


of her estate went to her son Paul. (She was a very devout Catholic, 
and contributed a lot to charity when she was alive.) In the early 
days when B, F. started^ she ran the "boardinghouse for the actors 
working at the museum and theater. After her death B. F. gave his 
son two million bucks before marrying the daughter of P. B. Chase 
(owner of the Chase Theatre, Washington, D. C.). He suffered a 
nervous breakdown on his honeymoon traveling aronnd the world 
in his yacht. He was never quite himself again and gladly turned 
over control of the organization to Albee (who had it anyway); 
the old gent was willing to take the credit, but took no active part. 
Eventually nobody paid any attention to the boss, Keith. Any 
order he gave required an O.K, from Albee and B. F. gave few 
orders, being content to "play" manager of the little Bijou, his 
original Boston house. 

He died shortly after his second marriage, cruising on his yacht 
in Florida waters. His death caused scarcely a ripple in vaudeville,, 
because he had become a nonenity. He left the bulk of his property 
to his son Paul and Albee long before his death to get away from 
the inheritance tax. His estimated fortune was from eight to ten 
millions. His second wife, Ethel Chase Keith, got a prenuptial 
settlement of half a million! 

Besides the dough, he left the name of Keith, which was known 
all over the world, but it was just a name, because he cut but a 
small figure in the actual development of vaudeville. The only 
thing he could lay claim to as an originator and contributor to 
vaude was the continuous performance idea. 

In the last years of vaudeville, when they got away from the 
clean, refined, wholesome entertainment that had made the name 
of Keith famous (although it was Pastor who really started it) 
and allowed profanity, nudity, and dirty gags to sneak in, even the 
great name of Keith was forgotten! 

These Were the Kings and Rulers . . . 

From an "outside" ticket man and a "fixer" with a circus to be- 
ing the czar of all vaudeville! That's what happened to a b"d 
born in Machias, Maine, in 1857, by the name of Edward Frank- 
lin Albee! His work with circuses gave him the shrewdness and the 
motto, "Never give a sucker an even break/' which carried him 
through as top man in a fantastic era of show biz! 

Meeting B. F. Keith, who was a candy butcher with one of the 
circuses that Albee was a "fixer" with, was his springboard to being 
top man some day. When Keith opened his little museum in 
Boston, he called on Albee when he was in a jam or needed show- 
manship advice. When Keith became partners with Mr. George 
Bacheller, it was on condition that he meet Bacheller' s bankroll of 
$10,000. Keith called Albee 7 who came to Boston with the circus 
bankroll, matched Bacheller's money, and a couple of days later 
got his money back. The venture was a success with Bachellefs 
money alone! 

The story became authentic with the next move, for which 
Albee is the authority. Keith and Bacheller split. (Bacheller went 
to Providence, Rhode Island, where he owned and managed the 
Westminster Theatre for many years.) Keith continued in Boston, 
and when the museum was petering out, he called on Albee again. 

Albee made another trip to Boston. Coming down Washington 
Street on a hot day he came to the Bijou, an upstairs house to 
which Keith had moved. In the narrow lobby was a cage containing 
a number of animals, a couple of raccoons, a monkey, and a few 
more smelly citizens of the forest, which Keith regarded as a busi- 
ness attractor, but which Albee no liked, Keith was offering Gilbert 
& Sullivan and other nonroyalty-paying musicals. Albee figured the 
class of women patrons to whom the bills most strongly appealed 
would be kept away by the smelly menagerie. So he took the ani- 
mals out and redecorated the lobby with gay-colored fans and 
Japanese umbrellas. Business jumped away tip and Albee moved 

Eventually he sold the timid Keith the idea of building a real 


theater. The adjoining property could be bought cheaply, but 
Albee's ideas were far from cheap. He wanted a theater as mag- 
nificent as the Tabor Grand in Denver. That was the most mag- 
nificent theater in the country at that time. They could swing the 
land deal Much of the construction money came from the Catholic 
Church. There was method in Albee's financial scheme. Boston 
was a strongly Catholic town. The Diocese was rich. If their money 
was invested in a theater of the sort Albee outlined, the church 
would get behind the enterprise, not only to encourage clean shows, 
but to get its money back. The Protestant angle was taken care of 
by the engagement of the superintendent of one of the fashionable 
Sunday schools; he was a sort of reception committee and floor 
manager, who also listened for any blue material pulled on stage. 
Had Boston boasted a larger Jewish population, it is certain that 
Albee would have worked a rabbi into the scheme of things. 

With a really beautiful theater presenting smart and clean vaude 
and miniature operas staged by Milton Aborn, the Keith Colonial 
got away to a runaway start and its fame spread throughout the 
country. To have visited Boston without having gone to Keith's was 
like coming to New York and not seeing Broadway! The customers 
were taken on tour and the cellar was as spic and span as the 
auditorium. It was Albee's idea to spread an $89 red rug in front 
of the white-washed coal bin! It was a sensation and was talked 
about more than the show. The locals were steady in their patron- 
age. Keith was on the crest of the wave, and Albee was making 
the waves. Other houses were soon opened, in Philadelphia next, 
then in New York. 

When Albee moved over to New York, he still retained his office 
in Boston. Although he was practically the head of the circuit, he 
was to all but a few insiders just a name. He never was a good 
mixer, but he made an effort to impress and one of his appeals was 
his stories of the old circus days. He had a raft of them, and one 
of his favorites was the one about the efforts of a Texas sheriff to 
put a lien on the show. He boarded the train at the first stop this 
side of the Texas line, intending to serve his papers as soon as they 
reached Texas soil. On the excuse that the privilege car was too 
crowded, Albee coaxed the sheriff into the baggage car, where there 
was no window to look out of. With a bottle and a line of chatter 
he kept the law man occupied until a train hand gave "the office" 
that they had crossed the Texas Panhandle and were now in Indian 

These Were the Kings and Rulers . . . u * 

Territory (now OHalioma) . So they stopped the train and dumped 
the sheriff on the right of way between stations. 

As the job grew, Albee grew into an appreciation of the im- 
portance of his position. His circus stories became fewer and fewer 
and even the mention of the tents was taboo. Albee wanted to 
forget those days, for now he was not only the general manager of 
the expanding Keith Circuit, but also head of the United Booking 
Office. He was in a new and higher social set-and wanted to forget 

the circus. 

In those days he was an odd mixture of shrewdness and un- 
sophistication, and was like a boy when someone suggested he go 
one evening to see the show at Sam T. Jack's (a burly house) . In 
Boston he did not dare to be seen in the Old Howard, and on 
the road he had no time for burly shows. I will let Epes Sargent 
tell you what happened. 

"Sitting too long over dinner, we did not reach the theater until 
after curtain time, and as we climbed the steps of what had been 
the Princess Theatre (next to the Fifth Avenue) the strains of a 
gospel hymn came down the stair well and Albee stopped in his 
tracks. It's a damn poor idea of a joke/ he reproved. (He thought 
he was being steered into a gospel meeting.) But a moment later 
the tune changed and he recognized 'Old Jim's Christmas Hymn/ 
into which was worked 'Jesus, Lover of My Soul/ He enjoyed the 
performance, which was an absolute novelty to the man who con- 
trolled a large slice of show biz, and two of the olio acts owe their 
getting out of burly into vaude on the Keith Time to this visit. 
One of the acts was Fonte-Boni Bros., the other escapes my 
memory." Epes Sargent was with him that night and told me about 
it years later. 

In Boston, Albee's hobby had been driving, for he had a New 
Englander's love for good horseflesh, and his mare, Hilltop, was a 
beautiful animal. He brought her to New York, but soon had to 
give up his early morning drives and use his big automobile. It 
was one of the prices he paid for his big position in the show 

Always with a mind to profits, he promoted the Boston Fadettes, 
a woman's orchestra under direction of Caroline B. Nichols. He 
booked them into all of the affiliated houses, taking his cut- on the 
salary. He also toured a sort of fair or carnival staged in Boston 
and which was made an annual event for several years, but only 


in the Keith houses. Later Martin Beck imported the Hungarian 
Boys 7 Band, under Schilzonyi, and this gave Albee the idea for the 
Keith's Boys' Band, formed in part of employees of the New York 
houses. It was not used as an attraction,, but was loaned as an 
advertisement. It disappeared when the retrenchment era set in. 

The night that the formation of the United Booking Office was 
finished and announced, Albee declared that a new era had ar- 
rived. For several years the actors had been upping their salaries, 
often without changing their acts, and it galled the man from 
Machias that he could do nothing about it. Now the whip was 
suddenly placed in his hands, and he rejoiced 1 

"Those damned actors have been sticking it into me for many 
years/' he declared. "Now I'm going to stick it into them and 
harder!" He tried it, but Percy Williams proved a stumbling block. 
It was useless to ask an act to take $350 if Williams would pay 
them $500! Eventually Keith bought Williams out at a sum said 
to be around six millions, then they started cutting acts' salaries, 
and they were drastic cuts. They could now do it, for the Keith 
Time, with the exception of a few weeks booked by William 
Morris, was the only opening in the East and Midwest- On the 
Coast Pantages was making trouble, but playing small-salaried 
acts. Vaudevillians had to take what the booking office offered or 
do the best they could with a few pick-up dates, mostly at even 
smaller money. 

It was reported around Broadway among show folks at one time 
that this price cutting had reached such a scientific point that 
private detectives investigated new acts the office wanted. The 
investigators reported what the actor paid for rent and food and 
what he needed to support maybe a couple of children. With that 
info at hand, the booking office could offer a figure slightly higher, 
but still much less than it would have probably set without this 
information. The story may have been a lie, because it was never 
definitely proven, but certainly the offers made showed an uncanny 
knowledge of just how much money an act needed to live on. 
(They claim this procedure has been followed in Hollywood; when 
finding that an actor is stuck with a big home, swimming pool, 
debts, etc., they know they can offer him a cut.) 

Even standard acts were cut and sliced until at one time Variety 
reported that 1,200 turns were booking only from week to week, 
not willing to commit themselves for a season at the figures offered. 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 34$ 

The office may not have gotten back all the dough paid Percy 
Williams for his circuit, but it was certainly able to write off a 
large slice of the investment. Albee was "sticking it in" to a fare- 
thee-well, and was aided by his fellow managers, all of whom re- 
sented the growing costs of bills. 

It put Albee in a great spot, and for a time he rode high in the 
saddle. But someone slipped a burr under the saddle. John J. 
Murdock was the burr. He was still smarting from the deal Albee 
worked on the Western Vaudeville Association. Murdock sensed 
Albee's weakness. Albee was giving more time and thought to the 
building of new theaters than to the entertainment which was 
gonna pay off the contractor's bills. He was enjoying an orgy of 
planning theaters, buying oil paintings, antiques, and decorations 
for them, and forgetting vaudeville. 

With the death of B. F. Keith and later A. Paul Keith, Albee 
was able to discard the fiction that he was acting for Keith. From 
a hired hand he became a dictator, and became drunk with a sense 
of power. He formed a company union of actors, and bankrupted 
the White Rats. (See my chapter about the White Rats and the 

Albee certainly had built the finest theaters in the world for 
vaudeville! Beautiful lobbies with oil paintings that cost thousands 
of dollars, rugs that cost more thousands, dressing rooms with 
bath that compared to the finest hotel suites, and he even fur- 
nished large turkish towels to the actors. A green room that any 
millionaire's home could boast of. The Albee in Brooklyn, the 
Palace in Cleveland, and the Memorial in Boston they were 
cathedrals! As a showman he was proving himself one of the best 
architects in the country. This down-East Yankee had a genius for 
color and decoration that would be the last thing you'd expect 
from him. His taste leaned too strongly to marble, red drapes, etc. 
(the old circus influence) but he had plenty of ideas. He designed 
the "mushroom" system of theater ventilation, which later was 
adopted by the engineers for both houses of Congress in Wash- 
ington. He improved on the old idea of passing air through an ice 
chamber, developing the idea of present-day air-conditioning sys- 
tems. He dotted the Eastern country with theatrical monuments 
to his architectural skill, but many of the houses proved costly to 
the circuit and helped a lot in pushing vaudeville down the hill. 
If he had remained the great showman (which he undoubtedly 


was) instead of becoming an architect, there still might have been 
good vaude, or at least it might have lasted a bit longer. 

While speaking about Albee's building ideas, I must tell you 
another story my friend Epes Sargent told me. It was after Keith 
had built Keith's Colonial Theatre that Sargent dropped in to see 
J. Austin Fynes, who was F. F. Proctor's general manager (and 
who didn't like Albee at all). Fynes said to Sargent, "I hear you 
are go : ng up to Boston to see the new Keith Theatre. Well, you'll 
find Ed Albee one of the best sanitary engineers in the country" 
(he didn't say sanitary engineers) . Next day Albee took Sargent for 
an inspection tour of the only de luxe house in the country. "The 
house is not ready as yet," said Albee. "Suppose we look over the 
sanitary arrangements?" They were magnificent, and J. Austin 
Fynes 1 words came back to him! 

A year later when Sargent went to interview Mr. Keith, the old 
man suggested they drive out to Marblehead where he (really 
Albee) was reconstructing a summer home he had bought. All 
along the road there were cottages being redone, but Sargent 
pointed ahead to a place and said, "That's yours." Keith said, "I 
didn't know you knew this country." Sargent didn't, but he saw 
three crated toilet-fixtures on the lawn and knew Albee must have 
ordered them! 

In his later years Albee did many nice things. He contributed 
and raised a lot of dough for Bishop Manning to build St. John's 
Cathedral. He left about $100,000 to the Actors' Fund and a few 
bequests to English actors' organizations. He didn't leave very 
much to the American actors, because they broke his heart (like 
he did theirs). 

There is no doubt that E. F. Albee took variety out of the 
kennels and placed vaudeville in the palaces he constructed, but 
he never seemed to realize that it was vaudeville itself that was 
more important than the theaters which housed it. The beautiful 
houses did a lot to dignify vaude, but beautiful theaters can't 

Edward Franklin Albee tried to make vaudeville a one-man busi- 
ness, and he was not a big enough man to run it. After all, vaude- 
ville meant variety even in managers! 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 348 

J. If iirdock 

John J. Murdock, the last survivor of the great pioneers of the 
kingdom of Vaudeville, died on December 8, 1948, at the St. Erne 
Sanitarium in Los Angeles, California. He was eighty-five years old. 

The life of John J. Murdock is the history of American vaude- 
ville. No leader of the industry was so conspicuous in the organizing 
and developing of variety as Murdock, As a promoter of chains, 
builder of theaters, and arbitrator of warring factions in labor and 
management, his hand was always that of the quiet dealer, his 
brain the one that hatched the better ideas, yet his name seldom 
was seen in print. He said to reporters, "Fll give you the story, but 
keep me out of this." He was content to manipulate the strings 
backstage and let E. F. Albee take all the- bows. (Like Albee did 
with Keith.) 

Murdock, a man of Scottish drive and business sense, started in 
the late '905 as a stage electrician. He soon owned a stock company 
in Cincinnati. Coming to Chicago he made the Masonic Temple 
Roof an outstanding vaudeville theater. His competitors at that 
time were Charles C. Kohl and his partners George Castle and 
George Middleton, who ran the Chicago Opera House, the 
Olympic, and the Haymarket. Kohl and Middleton had been 
buddies with the Barnum show and controlled the dime museums 
and cheap variety in Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. Castle did 
the booking for the Haymarket and Chicago Opera House. 

Castle's idea of a headliner was far from MurdocFs, who circused 
"Little Elsie" (Janis) and promoted a wild story that he paid the 
Four Cohans $5,000 for their farewell appearance in vaudeville. 
Murdock liked music and saw that his patrons got the best the 
market could afford at that time. When he ran short of class acts, 
he created them, as in the case of Grace Akis, "The Girl with the 
Auburn Hair/' who later became Mrs. Murdock. She posed with 
drapes before a group of choir boys who sang semireligious and 
seasonable songs. She was one of the first of the living picture acts, 
and became a headliner. 

About the turn of the century, Kohl, Castle, Middleton, and 


Martin Beck made their offices in the old Ashland Block at the 
corner of Clark and Randolph streets over the old Olympic. They 
brought in Murdock, who developed the Western Vaudeville Man- 
agers Association. Murdock picked up Jake Stenard and several 
other independent booking offices and in a short time was servicing 
twenty amusement parks with outdoor attractions, bands, and free 
shows. This was followed by the first million-dollar theater, the 
Majestic, Chicago. Built by the Lehman estate, owners of the Fair 
department store, it opened on January i, 1906. Murdock promoted 
this beautiful vaudeville house, which was also a twenty-two-story 
office building. It was a far cry from the old dime museum! It was 
the job of Murdock to obtain attractions which would draw the 
Chicago elite to variety shows. 

He brought in Lyman B. Glover to "front" for the place. Glover 
had been Richard Mansfield's manager and was dean of the dra- 
matic critics covering the theater for the old Herald. Murdock, who 
started as a stagehand at the old Pike Opera House in Cincinnati, 
was doing all right for the museum boys and plenty good for him- 

Martin Beck 7 who at one time booked Chicago beer gardens, 
graduated to general manager of the Orpheum Circuit. All of the 
office staff was moved to the Majestic building in 1906 and a family 
department was established. This brought in the baby Gus Sun 
Circuit (which later developed into more than 1,000 houses), the 
Butterfield Circuit, and the John Hopkins Louisville Theatre and 
Parks. The houses in Cincinnati and Indianapolis were controlled 
by Max Anderson, the Cox-Rinock people, and the Inter-State 
Circuit in Texas. Later the Finn & Heiman Circuit and the Thielan 
Time were added. The Middle West gave plenty of work to actors 
then. Murdock did a "Branch Rickey" with his farm circuits in 
order to develop big-time talent. Many famous names first played 
the Western Time as beginners, then graduated to the Orpheum 
Circuit, and eventually played the New York Palace! 

Coming East to join Albee, who placed a trust in him that others 
considered unwarranted, Murdock was feared and was taken into 
the fold to eliminate him. His associates soon learned that he was 
the one man who could assemble theaters and make vaude pay off 
in millions. He was cagey, hesitant, and it was almost impossible 
to get a definite answer out of him. He would sit cross-legged and 
pull out a desk drawer containing knickknacks. He always had a 

These Were the Kings and Rulers . . . 350 

bottle of Kumyess (goafs milk) and a large hunk of honey on his 
desk. While you were trying to make your point, he would take a 
sip of Kumyess and a bit of honey, take a piece of film oot of the 
drawer, hold it up to the light, inspect it, ask how you liked a cer- 
tain shot, and then he would snip off a piece of film with the scissors. 

One of Murdochs greatest weaknesses was his "chair cooling" 
idea. He seldom made an appointment, but when he did, he kept it 
promptly. He always made callers sit a long time or come back. 

At one time a prospective builder of a theater down South called 
on Murdock to declare him in on his proposition for a franchise. 
He arrived only to find Murdock at a meeting. It was the custom at 
the time to call a boy and take a prospective partner into the dress 
circle of the Majestic Theatre to see the show and be impressed 
by MurdocFs organization. From the reception room on the third 
floor the callers were taken down a long narrow hall, led past the 
executive office, through the large directors' room, into the dress 
circle, and then asked to wait. Some could have read Anthony 
Adverse before being called into Murdock. 

Once Murdock and Marcus Heiman (who at one time was head 
of the Orpheum Circuit) made a date to meet the top people from 
Universal Pics to discuss a ten-million-dollar deal. When they got 
to the meeting they had lunch. After lunch Murdock said, "Gentle- 
men, I left my glasses at home; I also left my notes at home and 
without them I am lost, so let's call this meeting off until tomor- 
row/' When Marcus Heiman asked him later what the idea was of 
calling a meeting and then calling it off, Murdock replied, "I felt 
tired after lunch, and I was afraid I couldn't think fast enough for 
those fellows so I postponed it." 

Once he sent for one of his managers. The man arrived at the 
Palace in New York. J. J. was notified and sent word to the man to 
come back to his office after lunch. He returned and was told that 
J. J. was at a meeting. He came back at 4:30 and was told that 
Murdock was gone for the day. So he called early next morning. 
When J. J. arrived he said, "I asked you to see me yesterday, where 
were you?" The manager replied., "I just got here." Murdock saw 
him the next day. 

Most of Murdochs deals brought houses into the Eastern and 
Western Circuits on contracts calling for his firm to operate on a 
50-50 basis. He did the hiring and firing, but, most important, 



booked and charged for various services which go with the supply- 
ing of attractions. Millions rolled in as a result. 

As a diplomat, he never was too one-sided. He was friendly with 
his superior's (Albee's) worst competitors and enemies. When 
Variety was barred in the United Booking Offices by Albee, Mur- 
dock was caught reading it. He was asked, "What's the idea of not 
only having but reading Variety when Albee's orders are to bar it?" 
"Why, this is Albee's copy! I took it off his desk!" said Murdock. 

On Saturday afternoons J. J. loved to browse around old furniture 
stores, antique shops, and quaint holes. One day on his way home 
to Westchester he dropped into the Alhambra Theatre at iz6th 
Street and Seventh Avenue. Across the street from the stage door 
he spied a secondhand furniture store and decided he wanted cer- 
tain pieces he saw there. He called Harry Bailey, the manager of 
the theater, gave him the list, believing Bailey could make a better 
deal, and departed. Bailey, in turn thinking that his prop man 
could do even better, sent him over to price the stuff. To the man- 
ager's surprise and to Murdock's chagrin, the prop man learned 
that most of the pieces were sold to the dealer by Murdock's 
brother-in-law, who had taken them from one of Murdock's old 
farm buildings! 

Murdock had a marvelous sense of loyalty to his employees. 
"Tink" Humphries was a favorite, as was Billy Jackson. He did not 
go for everyone, but if he became intimate with someone it was 
because he was certain of him and was not afraid of his judgment. 
Should an employee make a mistake, Murdock would fix it, move 
the man around, but very seldom fired him. He was a true and 
tricky friend. He did object to any of his managers having interests 
in other theater projects. When he discovered this "disloyalty," 
out went the manager. Many boys in his organization were raised 
from a pup by J. }. He liked giving kids a break and some of his 
boys developed into well-known showmen and hookers. 

Before coming East with Albee, Murdock lost out with the West- 
ern bunch. He played around in the pic industry and was active in 
breaking the motion pictures' Patent Trust with Carl Laemmle. 
He was once managing director of the American Talking Pictures 
Company, and was thrown out by Edison, who took it over and 
changed the name to the Edison Kinetophone Co. That was back 
in 1913. 

He fought labor and won and broke many a strike by stagehands, 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 352 

musicians, picture operators, and actors. In 1926 the musicians and 
stagehands were going to strike in Frisco. Murdock got them ajid 
the managers on the phone from New York and spoke for five and a 
half consecutive hours and averted the strike. The bill $2,157.80 
was split between labor and management. 

Time after time Murdock advised Albee to enter the picture 
business, but Albee didn't listen. He also tried to interest the East- 
ern managers, but they too failed to listen, while Fox, Loew, and 
Moss did and made millions. 

In 1926 }. J. was told by his doctor he had cancer. He thought 
honey was a good cure for it to build a lining for his stomach, and 
he became a fanatic on the subject. He studied bees and raised his 
own honey on his Mamaroneck farm. He backed doctors in trying 
to find a cure for cancer. Their theory was to perfect serum from 
blooded horses, and J, J. went for over $800,000 buying blooded 
horses to bleed, etc. He gave millions for cancer research and was 
very angry when this became known. But he outlived all his doctors I 

When J. J. Murdock came to New York, he had about $100,000 
in cash. He started with Keith at a salary of $6,000 a year. (He set 
the salary himself, with a proviso that his commissions be raised 
if he increased earnings for Keith. His salary stayed at $6,000 until 
the day he retired, but his commissions ran into millions. At one 
time he was rated at eight million.) Besides adjusting labor trou- 
bles for the circuit, he made deals for the construction of all 
theaters, trades, mergers. He also directed all agents, which alone 
was a five-million-dollar-a-year business. 

Sime Silverman, the publisher of Variety, took many a punch at 
Murdock. He asked B. F. Keith to investigate the activities of Albee 
and Murdock, he printed cartoons against Murdock, and still 
Murdock became one of Sime's greatest friends. It can be told now 
that it was Murdock who tipped off Sime to all of Albee' s moves. 
Murdock was hard in business, but soft inside. He was an iron man 
who never looked back, a terrific showman who had definite likes 
and dislikes. He helped many an actor and hurt many more. He 
okayed the booking of stool pigeons who reported by letter almost 
daily the backstage gossip, a practice which led to the blacklisting 
of many of the acts. 

He was never a theater owner while with Keith's. He stuck to 
Keith's, saw it become the Keith-Albee Circuit, and finally the 
Radio-Keith-Orpheum. He arranged for the purchase of Path6 Pic- 


tares and became board chairman of Path6 before he retired in 
1929. After his retirement he was property poor. All his money was 
tied up in real estate back East. In his last years he saw very few 
people except his old friend Colonel Levy of Louisville, who spent 
his winters in California. 

With the passing of J. J. Murdock, there also passed an era in 
show biz. 

Percy G. Williams 

Like most really big showmen, Percy G. Williams cared little or 
nothing for self-popularity. He was in the business of selling shows 
on their merits and he felt that the glamor of his name meant little 
to the man that was seeking amusement. As a result, the number 
one showman of the golden era of vaudeville is less known than 
the lesser lights with bigger bumps of egotism. To Williams, show- 
manship was procuring the best possible programs and selling them 
to the greatest possible advantage. He excelled in both these things. 

Seated in a crowd, Williams would never have been picked out 
as a leader or as a showman. He had a retiring modest personality 
and was soft-spoken. Slightly under average height, he did not stand 
out. He was well informed and very seldom used "I" in his conver- 
sation. He seldom bragged about what he had accomplished, unless 
it had a humorous angle. He gave personal attention to all booking 
matters and saw that each act contributed to the general effect of a 
good show. He wore "quiet" clothes and, instead of the regular 
manager's diamond ring, he wore an Egyptian scarab. He never 
bragged about the money he accumulated, but one time when he 
was giving bond for a friend taking out letters of administration, 
he was asked what security he had to offer. He drew from his 
pocket a list of some twenty or thirty properties. "Take any one you 
like," he said. "None of them is mortgaged!" 

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1859, he was brought to Brook- 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 354 

lyn, New York, when a very young Icld. He started his career in the 
'Scs as an actor in a cheap touring combination. He got the idea 
of a liver pad, bag, or belt, which was a red flannel contraption 
stuffed with aromatic herbs (originally made up by his dad, who 
was a doctor). The argument was that, worn about the body, it 
would permit the pores to absorb the medicament in the herbs. 
In later years he improved on the liver pad; he had an electric rheu- 
matism belt. He would send a man ahead to pick out the most 
rheumatic man or woman in town and ask them to wear the belt. 
"No money, no obligations, you have nothing to lose and every- 
thing to gain if it cures you/' In a few days Williams would come 
along with his show. He did a "high pitch" (from a wagon) . After 
a few specialty acts of blackface, banjo playing, dancing, and a few 
jokes, Williams would make his spiel and ask the man or woman 
to step up. The townspeople would be surprised to see the cripple 
actually walking for the first time in years. They knew it was no fake 
because the man or woman was a solid citizen. Williams would sell 
the belts like hot cakes. Of course, the gimmick was that there was 
such a terrific battery charge in the belt it would make a dead man 
move. Still, they cured a lot of people who thought they had 

Williams had noted that medicine fakers working a high pitch 
(from a carriage or wagon) used banjo or other instruments to 
attract a crowd. He bettered the idea by forming a small show and 
playing in a tent. He headed his own troupe, selling the belts be- 
tween the acts, but the idea proved so successful that he put some- 
one else in to take his place and opened a headquarters from which 
he organized and sent out other troupes, some of them on his own, 
but mostly in partnership with some enterprising showman. He 
was said to have sixty companies out at one time in the United 
States and Canada, and some of these outfits brought in as much 
as $20,000 net profit on the season. 

When the country was properly supplied with belts, and the 
Indian Sagwa Troupes started to cut into his takings, he let the mat- 
ter drop. He soon tied up with Thomas Adams, Jr. (then the 
Tutti-Frutti Chewing Gum king), and invested in a project on 
Jamaica Bay three hundred acres of swampland. They intended to 
build it up as a real estate development, but the mosquitoes were 
so thick that whisk brooms hung beside most screen doors to brush 
off the pests before entering the house. But Williams took a page 


from his medicine show experience and started a small amusement 
venture known as Bergen Beach. This consisted of a boardwalk, a 
casino, a bathing pool, a dozen small buildings for sideshows, and 
an open amphitheater on the edge of the bay with a stage on the 
water on which he gave performances of Pinafore. (It took almost 
fifty years for them to copy this one, which they are now doing all 
over the country.) 

At one time he thought he'd boost business by staging an under- 
water explosion of a charge of dynamite, but this was dropped on 
demand of the Federal authorities when the first blast practically 
covered the bay with stunned and dead fish, After that he concen- 
trated on the Casino (later called it the Trocadero), where he 
presented light musical comedies, most of them written by himself. 
It was pleasant enough entertainment, after a ride in the cool of 
the evening on the Flatbush Avenue trolley, the last half of the 
journey being made through practically open country. It is all 
built up now, including the beach itself. Many of the original 
investors in lots were actors; and none of them failed to make a 
good profit on his investment, 

One season Williams brought up from the South the first show- 
boat to enter metropolitan waters in a couple of generations. He 
moored it in the bay, but never figured any use for it, so resold it 
and it went back down South. Had he thought of it, he might have 
written that chapter of amusements which started nearly a genera- 
tion later with kidding performances of The Drunkard, but maybe 
In 1900 they would have taken it seriously. 

To show his sense of humor, I must tell you about the time one 
of those chronic "pass chasers" came to his table in the pavilion 
and asked for a pass to the show. Williams told him he was sorrjr 
that the Casino was sold out. "Well, give me a pass for something, 
anything," said the grafter. Williams gravely wrote out something 
on a slip of paper and handed it to him. "Pass bearer to fish in 
Jamaica Bay," read the grafter. "Where do I get the boat?" "You 
hire one," explained Williams.* "That's just a pass to fishl" 

In the winter Williams ran a small show on the East Side in 
New York in what had been known as Zip's Casino, a third-rate 
beer garden. In 1897 he took over the old Brooklyn Music Hall 
(Gotham), then took over the Novelty on Driggs Avenue, in 
Williamsburg. He had the acts play bath houses, taking them from 
one house to the other in carriages and tallyhos, which received 

These Were the Kings and Riders ... 3SS 

plenty of publicity. (First time "doubling" was ever done. Many 
years later small towns exchanged acts, and the Big Time "doubled' 7 
acts when there was a shortage.) 

These theaters were so successful he decided to tackle downtown 
Brooklyn and bought a plot at Fulton Street and Rockwell Place. 
It was in 1901 that, with Otto Huber Brewing interest and Adams, 
the chewing-gum king, Williams built the Orpheum Theatre. Hyde 
and Behman had a monopoly of the theater business in Brooklyn, 
largely through a political pull. They made desperate efforts to 
prevent a building permit being issued for the new venture, but it 
didn't work. Williams, Adams ? and Huber also knew politics and 
pulled the right strings, so the Orpheum opened on time and Hyde 
and Behman cut their prices at their Adams Street house to half a 
buck. Williams started the Orpheum with the first ten rows at a 
dollar top, but was forced to move the dollar section back five 
more rows. People asked for dollar seats and, when told there were 
no more, turned away. They didn't want the 75 cents ones, but 
would gladly pay a dollar for the same seats. It was a dollar crowd 
and they wanted dollar seats. 

The Orpheum became one of the greatest subscription houses 
in America. Families had their reservations for years and years. 
There were three houses of this type, the Majestic in Chicago, the 
Orpheum in San Francisco, and the Orpheum in Brooklyn. They 
could tell you their gross weeks ahead. Many of these subscriptions 
were handed down to sons and daughters as an inheritance. That's 
how important vaude was in those days. 

Percy Williams presented the best programs he could get and 
was willing to pay the price to get what he wanted. He was known 
as the father of big salaries in vaude. If the Keith office was stalling 
an act in the hope of getting them more cheaply, Williams would 
come through with the dough the act wanted, and get it first. That 
established their salary, which Keith had to pay later. On one 
occasion he got a chance to put in the then popular Kilties 7 Band. 
It was a sensational booking and became more of a sensation when 
Williams threw out the first half of the bill already engaged (and 
paid them) and played his headliners for the first half of the show. 
It never had been done before. "It will cost you a lot of money," a 
friend told him. "Mebbe so/' agreed Williams, "but it will pay in 
the long run. I expect the Kilties to bring in hundreds of people 
who never before saw a vaudeville show. I want them to see what 


my usual shows are like, so I put the headlines in the first half; 
they'll like it, and will come back for more after the band is gone. 
I'll get my money back." And he did. (Martin Beck booked Sarah 
Bernhardt on the same idea.) Actors played to the same audience 
at the Orpheum week after week and year in and year out. It was a 
gold mine! Besides being one of the greatest audiences of vaude 
fans in America! 

The success of the Orpheum led to Williams taking the Circle 
Theatre, on jgth Street and Columbus Circle, his first New York 
theater, and then the Colonial,, which was originally built by 
Thompson and Dundy (the famous builders of the New York 
Hippodrome later) to be run on the lines of an English Music 
Hall. They didn't know that kind of business (they were really 
carnival and circus people) and were glad to drop it. Williams took 
it over and put it on its financial feet. Then he built the Alhambra, 
at Seventh Avenue and iz6th Street. Harlem had not felt the 
Negro invasion and was able to play to a class audience for many 

With four theaters going big, he built the Greenpoint in Brook- 
lyn in 1908, the first real theater for that section, then that same 
year took the Crescent Theatre and moved it 600 feet from its 
original location on Fulton Street. (It was the first big-building 
moving job.) He built the Bronx Opera House and ran vaude in 
Boston and Philadelphia in opposition to Keith, because they 
wouldn't let him in the United Booking Office. But he now became 
a thorn in the side of the ILB.O. (practically Keith's). They were 
about to close in on him when the Comedy Club, an organization 
of the great comedy acts of vaude, promised to stick to Williams. 
(They wanted an opposition circuit.) Keith couldn't buck that, so 
got him in and finally bought him out for about six million bucks. 
Williams was ready to quit; he had made a fortune and already was 
feeling the effects of the cirrhosis of the liver which eventually 
carried him off. 

It was the talk of the town that the Keith people got the pur- 
chase price back in a few years through salary cuts, but I don't 
believe that's true, because six million bucks is a lot of bucks to get 
back; but the Keith people did pretty good. 

Under the Keith operation the shows were cheapened and so 
were the standards. Within a year after the sale it became necessary 
to put special officers in the balcony and gallery of the Colonial 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 358 

Theatre to keep the patrons from becoming too demonstrative. 
The famous Colonial claque caused plenty of trouble (even In the 
days of Williams); when they didn't care for an act the entire 
gallery would clap their hands in unison. It was equal to a Bronx 
cheer, only louder. The class patronage Williams gathered soon 
scrammed. But I must say that even Williams was afraid of the 
Colonial gallery. When he booked Bransby Williams, who did 
delightful impersonations of Dickens* characters, and was what was 
called a "quiet act," he shut down the gallery with a sign "Under 
repairs," to save trouble for Bransby Williams. It meant a loss of a 
lot of dough, but Williams was that kind of a guy. Anyway, the 
Colonial gallery got more unruly under the Keith management, 
and so the house lost its class patronage. They wanted the best 
(without annoyance), and the Keith's best wasn't good enough. 

It wasn't generally known that Williams took a flyer in melo- 
dramas written by himself. He openly sponsored only one, Tracy, 
the Outlaw, based on a sensational escape and recapture of a West- 
ern convict. This had dramatic angles, and showed what a showman 
Williams was. He was out West at the time and wired his office 
that he had bought the bloodhounds employed in tracking Tracy 
and would use them in a play based on the escape. What he 
brought back were a couple of "torn dogs": great Danes which 
were always used in performances of Uncle Tom's Cabin because 
they looked fiercer and more dramatic than bloodhounds. He later 
confessed that he picked up the pair for little dough from a stranded 
"torn show" and that this gave him the idea for the play. Before 
he wrote the script, he was sitting in the Orpheum one night with 
William Morris. Vitagraph, who supplied his houses with motion 
pictures, threw on the screen a French picture showing a sledge- 
hammer battle between two men in a blacksmith shop. Williams 
turned to Morris and said, "Keep your eye on that film, Bill; Fm 
going to want it in August." When August came he set his actors 
in front of the screen, ran the picture over and over until they 
had memorized every move, and "the fight in the forge" was the 
big noise in his show. Just quick thinking. 

Before "chain management/ 1 where managers are practically 
office boys, most theaters reflected the personality of the manager. 
The Williams houses were friendly, comfortable, and without any 
such snobbish pretense as many theaters put on today. For a long 
time the Colonial had a patron who came in two and three times 


a week and never saw a full show. He bought an admission ticket* 
went straight to the lounge, and sat there reading his paper. He 
explained it was more cheerful than his bachelor apartment and 
more comfortable than his club. That was the keynote of Williams' 
success. He made people want to come. That was showmanship. 

}. J. Maloney 7 who started with Williams as a bookkeeper, be- 
came his confidential secretary and remained with him throughout 
the years. Williams was the Exalted Ruler of the Brooklyn Elks 
(he was one of the first sixty members of that lodge). In 1905 he 
was pinched for giving Sunday shows; he took it into the courts 
and a year later took it to the Supreme Court and won from the 

When Percy Williams died in 1923, he left his beautiful estate in 
Islip, Long Island (and the money for its upkeep), as a home for 
aged actors (the only manager in the world to do this). In his will 
he appointed members of his beloved Lambs as trustees with 
trustees of the Actors' Fund to see that the actors have everything 
they wish for, because, as he said before he died, 4 Tt was the actors 
who helped me make all my money, and I want them to enjoy it." 

Percy G. Williams died a gentleman of the theater very much 
mourned, loved, and respected by both actors and laymen. Could 
you ask for anything more? 

HI aEfin Beck 

Almost everybody likes to say, "I knew him when . . ." Especially 
actors. And nearly all the old-time vaude actors like to say, "Why, 
I knew Martin Beck when he was a waiter!" They tell you this and 
expect you to fall over in surprise. So what? He never denied it. 
I know a waiter that once was a headliner! 

The truth is that Martin Beck came to the United States when 
he was about sixteen, as a member of a small troupe of German 
actors. They first played in South America and then came to the 

Were the Kings md Rulers ... 3&3 

U.S. W. Passpart (who later became the European representative 
of the Orpheum Circuit) and Charles Feleky (who became the 
bead of the Orpheum Producing department) were also members 
of this troupe. There are no records of how good or bad an actor 
Martin Beck was, but we do know the troupe didn't do so well 
and broke up. Beck and Feleky went from door to door selling 
crayon pictures and took any odd job to keep from starving. 
Soon Beck landed a job as a waiter at the Royal Music Hall on 
North Clark Street, Chicago, for $12 a week (and tips). That was 
the year of the World's Fair in Chicago, 1893. With his knowledge 
of the show biz he soon was helping around as manager, stage 
manager, cashier, auditor, barman, and waiter for which he was 
raised to $20 a week. The Royal was next to Engel's, the best- 
known concert hall in the city. After a year at the Royal, Beck went 
to Engel's and remained there for two years. He became a partner 
and opened another place on the South Side. He would make the 
trip from one house to the other on a bicycle (to save expenses) to 
make change, pay off the help and check the receipts. He was doing 
pretty good when the crash came and ended Beck's career as a 
concert hall waiter, bookkeeper, manager, cashier, etc. He took his 
apron off and joined the Schiller Vaudeville Company on a trip 
to the West! 

While playing in San Francisco he met Gustave Walters, who 
owned the Orpheum Theatre, a saloom concert hall there. He also 
owned one in Sacramento. Walters broke up the Schiller Vaude- 
ville Company, using two acts for his houses, and offered Beck a 
job as manager and booker. Walters was strictly a saloon man and 
knew very little about variety shows. He also owed a $50,000 liquor 
bill to two gentlemen by the name of Morris Meyerfeld and his 
partner Dan Mitchell. He couldn't pay the bill, so the two gentle- 
men took the place over. They knew even less about show biz than 
Walters, so it wasn't long before Beck took over and soon was 
promoting a new Orpheum with Martin Lehman 7 who owned a 
theater in Los Angeles, and they made Charles E. Bray the secre- 
tary. Beck, Lehman, and Bray were all good showmen, but Beck 
also was a cute real estate operator and picked the sites for the 
many theaters the Orpheum started promoting. He was said to 
have had 10 per cent interest in the circuit at that time. All the 
theaters were promoted with local capital, which made the towns- 
people interested in the theaters. They were all fine, clean, well- 


appointed theaters, running clean shows, and were a credit to the 

When the Orpheum Circuit only had three theaters out in Cali- 
fornia, they had to play an act three weeks in each house and pay 
the act's fares and excess baggage, because very few acts wanted to 
make that long jump for a few weeks' work. 

It was through Martin Beck that the Orpheuin Circuit joined 
the great Middle West vaude powers, Kohl & Castle, in Chicago, 
and started the Western Vaudeville Association. They controlled 
all the vaude bookings in the Middle West. Before the organization 
of the W.V.M.A., the managers would book through the powerful 
United Booking Office in New York, where the Orpheum repre- 
sentative was Robert D. Girard. About 1905 Mr. Meyerfeld started 
to relax and practically turned over the running of the Orpheum 
Circuit (now a very big organization) to Beck. He came East and 
opened up his office in the St. James Building, where the mighty 
United Booking Office had their headquarters, and Mr. Beck soon 
got in with Albee and the rest of the tycoons of vaudeville. 

Beck was a pretty gruff man in business; he liked things done 
his way. He could even outfox Albee, which took plenty of foxingi 
But he gave everybody a square shake. He was an easy touch, liked 
nice things, and was loyal to his friends. He spoke about five lan- 
guages and was a well-traveled and intelligent man, also a very 
stubborn one. When his office was at 609 Ashland Block in Chicago 
and he was booking Kansas City (that was about 1899), Mont- 
gomery & Stone asked $250 to play there. Beck told their agent, 
"Not as long as I live will I ever pay Montgomery & Stone $250 a 
week in Kansas City." (He never did.) He had an uncanny mem- 
ory, could tell what he paid actors years ago, and could quote parts 
of their acts. I heard him tell a certain big-time agent on Broadway, 
"I will never buy an act from you until you pay me back the $1 5 
I loaned you twenty years ago when you were a hoofer, to get you 
out of town." The agent looked surprised and apologetically said, 
"Oh, Mr. Beck, I forgot all about it." Beck said, "I didn't!" He 
got the money and slipped it to a beggar. 

While I was in his office one day talking to him about making aa 
Orpheum tour, his secretary came in and told him that a certain 
act he wanted to see was in the office. "Send 'em in," said Beck. 
It was a foreign acrobatic act, two men and a woman. He asked 
them if they had signed their contracts? They said yes. "Do you 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 362 

know for how much?" "Yes, for $175 a week." Beck glared at them 
and yelled, "How the hell are you three going to live on $175 a 
week, with all that railroad fare you have to pay?" "The best we 
can do, Mr, Beck." "Do you realize what hotels and meals cost?" 
The acrobats were panicky. "We do the best we can, we really 
need the work." Beck still glaring, tore up the contracts and said, 
"I can't have my actors living like bums and dressing like tramps. 
When you are hungry you can't work properly. I must have actors 
that work good for me." By now the act was almost in tears. Then 
Beck said, "Tell the girl to make out new contracts for $350!" 
That's the kind of a guy Beck was, scare you to death, then do 
something nice. He didn't like anything cheap, and he liked class. 

Beck was the man who really put class into vaude. He would 
pay big salaries to fine concert musicians and ballet dancers (he 
first booked the Albertina Rasch Dancers) . He didn't care if those 
kinds of acts went over with the audience (many of them were 
away over the heads of the vaude patrons of that time) . When they 
would flop, Beck would shake his head and say, "They got to be 
educated." (Meaning the audience.) I asked him why he booked 
that type act, when the majority of people didn't like it. He re- 
plied, "Listen, in a vaudeville show everybody on the bill can't wear 
red noses, baggy pants, and take prat falls. A bill must have variety, 
change of pace, and have something that appeals to everyone. You 
know, there are a lot of people like goad music. If one man out 
there liked that fine violinist, I've made a customer!" His booking 
of Sarah Bernhardt for $7,000 a week (highest salary ever paid up 
to that time in vaude) proved his point. She did a terrific business 
for him when she first opened in Chicago and of course put the 
Palace on the map. 

E. F. Albee was always afraid of the ambitious Beck, and through 
agreements and threats he kept the Orpheum Circuit west of Chi- 
cago, and the U.B.O. stayed East, But Mr. Beck felt he was too big 
to be confined to a certain territory and wanted to get in New 
York. He bought a plot of ground and built the Palace. He had 
strong financial backing from a very wealthy Westerner, who re- 
mained in the background. The building of the Palace caused a 
panic among the Eastern vaude managers, especially E. F, Albee. 
Hammers tein showed his U.B.O. franchise, giving him all vaude 
rights to the territory from Forty-second Street to Columbus Circle, 


which meant that Beck couldn't get any acts from the U.B.CX 
(which had all the great standard acts). His backer got cold feet 
and didn't go through with the deal, so Beck had to do business 
with Albee. When the smoke cleared, Albee had the Palace, so 
eliminating a threat of opposition, Beck retained 25 per cent of 
the stock, and the booking of the Palace went through his office. 
Albee had to pay Hammerstein's 8200,000 (he was offered a big 
block of stock, but Willie Hammerstein took the cash, saying the 
Palace wouldn't last two years, it was too far uptown). He wasn't 
the only one who has made bad predictions. Didn't we see master 
showmen say that pictures wouldn't last, that talkies were just a 
passing novelty, radio was a toy, and TV a gadget? 

Here is a story about Beck signing up Sarah Bernhardt that has 
never been told. He went to Paris to get Mme. Bernhardt, and she 
signed willingly; he didn't have to hold a gun to her head or break 
her arm when he offered her $7,000 a week. When Beck got back to 
his hotel, he became very nervous and started to pace the floor. 
His wife asked him what was the matter? "I forgot to tell her that 
she had to work on Sundays in America." AH night he pictured 
how she would explode her temperament all over the place when 
he told her about Sundays, how she would tear up the contract, 
etc. etc. It was a sleepless and very nervous Martin Beck who called 
on Mme. Bernhardt the next morning and tried to break the news 
to her gently. Instead of flaring up, Bernhardt patted him on the 
cheek and said, "Why, don't worry. I have no other place to go on 
Sundays, the theater is my church and home. Fll be happy working 
there on Sunday!" 

Martin Beck was the first to give out fine booklet programs in- 
stead of the one small sheet that all theaters used. He was also the 
first to build a mortgage-free theater; he owned every brick of his 
Martin Beck Theatre on West Forty-fifth Street. He was also one 
of the first to build a theater "off Broadway." West of Eighth 
Avenue was practically out of town. He opened his theater with 
Mme. Pompadour, which he produced with Charles Dillingham 
with Wilda Bennett in the lead. It first opened out of town with 
Hope Hampton (the beautiful wife of the late Jules Brulatour, 
who got a commission on every foot of film sold in America) . 
Beck canceled her and replaced her with Wilda Bennett, and had 
to pay Hope Hampton too. He spent a fortune on the production, 

These Were the Kings and Riders ... 364 

and it was a magnificent flop. I asked him once why he did it? He 
shrugged his shoulders and said, "It was beautiful. Bad, but 

In later years when vaude was going on the rocks he again took 
charge, but it was too late for a doctor; not even a specialist could 
help it. He then became advisor to RKO (Very few people knew 
this.) He had a peculiar assignment. When the Radio City Music 
Hall was being built, his job was to keep his eye on Roxy, who was 
spending a lot of money; everything he saw that he felt would 
make the theater better he would buy, and even the Rockefellers 
couldn't stand his mad spending of the RKO dough. Once in 
Paris he was shown a beautiful organ. Roxy immediately ordered a 
half a dozen, which ran into quite a large sum. After Beck talked 
to him, he cut the order down to four! 

There are many stories about Martin Beck told among actors, 
one especially which was repeated time and time again whenever 
actors were reminiscing. I was surprised one day when Beck asked 
me, '"Did you ever hear the funniest story told about me?" I im- 
mediately thought of the story that I'd heard for years, but didn't 
dare say anything about it to him. So you can imagine my surprise 
when I said no, and he went right into the story that I was thinking 

"A fellow I didn't book, because he had a very bad act, swore he 
would get even with me some day. Years later, when he still had a 
bad act, he blamed me that I was keeping him from bookings, 
which I never did. Anyway, one day he got a broken-down horse 
and wagon, drove up in front of the Palace Theatre just before 
matinee time, when there was a big crowd of agents, actors, and 
bookers, and started backing up the wagon, while he yelled to the 
horse, "Beck, you bastard, Beck, you S.O.B., etc/' It got a big laugh 
from the show people, and you want to know something? when I 
heard about it, I laughed too. I only wish he was as funny on the 
stage. Maybe he should have worked with a horse?" So Beck did 
have a sense of humor! 

He died leaving his charming wife Louise to take care of his many 
theatrical interests. She in her own right rates high in show biz as 
a prominent and tireless worker with the Theatre Wing and all 
theatrical charities. 

Actors told a lot of gags about Martin Beck, "but they liked him; 



they knew there wasn't a vaude circuit in the world that gave them 
fairer treatment than the Orpheum Circuit. And the Oipheum 
Circuit reflected its head Martin Beck! 

F. F* Proctor 

Frederick Freeman Proctor was born in 1852 at Dexter, Maine. 
He left school at an early age on account of the death of his father. 
He worked for awhile in the R. H. White's Dry Goods Store, in 
Boston, as an errand boy. Being fond of athletics, he joined the 
Y.M.C A While practicing there, he was seen by a performer by 
the name of Levantine, who was using the gym at the time, and 
soon joined him in an acrobatic and juggling act. They juggled 
barrels with their feet. He later worked in a circus and variety 
shows with different partners. He finally did a single and made a 
successful European tour under the name of his first partner, 
Levantine. He stayed in vaudeville for a few years and then decided 
the other end of the business was where he belonged. 

In 1880 he opened his own theater, the Green Theatre, in Albany, 
New York, His partner was H. Jacobs. They soon split and Proctor 
became his own boss and stayed that way until many years later, 
when he hooked up with B. F, Keith, and eventually broke away 
from him. He named his first theater Levantine's Novelty Theater. 

From 1880 to 1889 he and Jacobs opened theaters in Rochester, 
Utica, Brooklyn (Novelty and Criterion), Boston, Buffalo, Syracuse, 
Troy, New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford, Lancaster, Worcester, 
Lynn, Wilmington, and finally in 1889 opened Proctor's Twenty- 
third Street, New York. He started continuous performances in 
New York City, a copy of the Boston policy of Keith, who at that 
time couldn't find a good theater in New York. Proctor's advertis- 
ing read, "After breakfast go to Proctor's After Proctor's, go to 
bed." He formed a sort of a partnership with Charles Frohman 
and ran the noted Frohman Stock Company. 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 36S 

When Jacobs and Proctor were partners, their theaters dotted the 
middle section of New York State. Many people credit Jacobs with 
being the originator of the 10-20-30 school of amusement. In real- 
ity it merely followed a popular lead, but he made it his own in a 
way through advertising. It was the year Graver Cleveland had 
been elected the first Democratic president in years, and manufac- 
turing leaders feared the effects of his free-trade policies. Even 
before he was inaugurated there was a healthy panic which was 
reflected in the theater, and all over the country managers were 
finding it necessary to cut their prices of admission from 50 to 75 
cents top to a 3O~cent orchestra seat with perhaps a row or two of 
four-bit seats to kinda save face. Jacobs didn't want to save face. 
He made a virtue out of necessity, and the Proctor and Jacobs 
theater ads bragged about the 10-20-30 price, and the figures were 
lighted up on their house fronts. It caught on, and for a time the 
firm made plenty dough. Eventually, however, the circuit grew 
too large to handle intelligently and broke of its own weight. 

Both partners came to New York, and Jacobs became manager 
of the Third Avenue Theatre, while Proctor took the out-of-the- 
way house on West Twenty-third Street, between Sixth and 
Seventh avenues. The house played a few melodramatic hits 
like The Lost Paradise and The Long Strike, but it was too far 
from Broadway to draw any transient trade. It was then that Proc- 
tor decided to try Keith's idea of continuous performances, which 
had not as yet been introduced to New York. Keith couldn't get a 
spot, so it was virgin territory for that policy. 

Profiting by the lesson learned from Jacobs, Proctor decided to 
sloganize the town with thousands of one-sheets, snipes, and news- 
paper ads, all shouting "After Breakfast Go to Proctor's." This 
caught on and got the house off to a good start. In Boston, Keith 
and Albee were frothing at the mouth. (Keith never really forgave 
him for it) 

It was a couple of years before Keith took over the Union Square 
Theatre, which was the home of English melodrama. Keith cut 
down Proctor's lead in the town through giving better shows y 
particularly on the so-called "supper show." That was a show given 
from 5.30 to 7.30 P.M. The headliners did not appear at this show; 
they only did two a day, while the supper show acts did three. 
Proctor loaded this section of the bill with serio-comics who would 
work cheaply. Keith varied his programs more and set the rule that 



$35 single and $50 double was the least to be paid for this type of 
act. It cut down the Proctor's distance draw, but there were enough 
locals to still show a profit for Proctor. 

Proctor made enough money from the theater to start his second 
venture, the Pleasure Palace, at Fifty-eighth Street and Third 
Avenue. This was looked on as the start of a new type of show biz, 
a sort of department store of amusements. There was an auditorium 
seating better than 2,500 with a roof garden and a rathskeller. The 
rear stage wall was an asbestos curtain and it was planned to raise 
this and let the patrons of the beer garden enjoy the same show. 
The idea never clicked, because the acts didn't know which audi- 
ence to face. (So the "theater in the round" is new, eh?) 

They finally walled up the passageway from the rathskeller to the 
billiard and pool room in the basement of the beer garden, and 
the Palm Garden was rented out for dances and weddings. The 
roof garden never clicked, running only for a couple of seasons, 
and the rathskeller was a total loss. Instead of going downstairs 
after the show, the few who were thirsty and looking for fun went 
across the street to the Terrace Garden. The rathskeller too was 
closed and the whole ambitious idea put an awful crimp in the 
Proctor bankroll for a time. Some years later the house was gutted 
and changed to a fine theater, with only one balcony, and the 
former Palm Garden space added to its capacity, and still later it 
was again changed to the modern theater it is now. 

Proctor added the Columbia Theatre, the first house built in 
Harlem by Oscar Hammerstein, and renamed it Proctor's 12 5th 
Street. He later took over the Harlem Opera House, also built by 
Hammerstein, and then got the Fifth Avenue Theatre at Broadway 
and Twenty-eighth Street, which, like the Union Square, had been 
left behind in the uptown march. He kept the Albany house for a 
time and also built the first Proctor's in Newark, 

These extra spots that Proctor opened were burning Keith and 
Albee, who as yet hadn't started their expansion program. Keith 
had been using a four-leaf clover for a design, sort of emblematical 
of his four theaters. Proctor used a series of linked wreaths, sort of 
suggesting the Keith emblem, but larger! 

When E. F. Albee went gunning for complete control of the 
Keith enterprises, J. Austin Fynes, who had managed and "made" 
the Union Square, slipped out from under and went with Proctor 
as his general manager. He never could make Proctor spend as 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 368 

much for talent as Keith was doing, but he made a decided im- 
provement in the Proctor enterprises. 

When the first White Rats strike (1900) disorganized the vaude 
biz, Fynes put stock companies in the houses, with Hugh Ford 
(later a great pic director) as general producer, and the theaters 
began booming. The isjth Street Theatre was a gold mine, with 
Paul McAllister and Jessie Bonstelle as headlines. William J. Kelly 
became a terrific matinee idol there later. 

R F. Proctor married Georgena Mills, whose stage name was 
Georgie Lingard, (Lingard, her uncle, owned the Bowery Theatre 
and played the original part of Uncle Tom at the Bowery Theatre 
in 1866.) She was a soubrette and rope dancer. They started for 
the St. Louis Fair by auto. He was ditched near Pittsburgh and 
broke his legs, and was taken to Pittsburgh for hospitalization. 
During his convalescence Proctor started to pal around with Harry 
Davis. To Proctor nothing of his own seemed as good as the other 
fellow's, and he grew discontented. He thought the Davis stock 
company was much better than his and wrote Fynes demanding a. 
stock company "like the one here." Hugh Ford showed Fynes 
applications from nearly every member of the Davis Stock Com- 
pany asking for a job in his stock company, and told Fynes why 
he didn't hire them. Ford was the number one stock producer of 
the day and knew his biz, but couldn't satisfy Proctor and got out. 

Proctor then wanted to know why he couldn't get as good vaude- 
ville acts as Davis was showing in Pittsburgh. Instead of telling 
him it was because he would not pay the money, Davis told him 
that he did not book through Jules Ruby (Proctor's booker), who 
was getting gray trying to chisel five and ten dollars off actor's 
salaries to get within the Proctor limit. Ruby quit too. And when 
Proctor eame back, he made things so tough for Fynes that he quit 
even before his contract ran out. 

Fynes knew that the lease on the Fifth Avenue was about to 
expire, and tipped Keith off, with the result that Keith leased the 
house over the head of the unsuspecting Proctor. This eventually 
led to the formation of the Keith & Proctor Company, with the 
Proctor houses thrown into pics. Some years later when the com- 
pany was dissolved (through a lot of litigation), Fynes told Epes 
Sargent (who in turn told me) that he testified in Proctor's behalf 
through sheer pity. He expected Proctor to be trimmed. He wanted 
him to be, but he did not expect the complete scragging Proctor 


got. It was largely through Fynes* testimony that Keith had to give 
Proctor back his houses and some of the profits. 

Then began a new era for Proctor. His biz manager, George 
Wallen, a very smart cookie, convinced Proctor that he had the 
right idea. Instead of New York expansion, he went into the small 
towns, building combined theaters and office buildings (which 
New York managers are now fighting for), which gave Proctor 
his auditoriums practically rent free. Instead of pointing up the 
current headliner, managers were told to sell the Proctor show? 
week in and week out. When there were no big headliners, the 
people came anyway. The show was profitable because the office 
building paid the rent. Proctor had gone into the Keith booking 
office, and let Albee build the Eighty-sixth Street Theatre, the first 
theater in the country to be fitted up for light housekeeping back- 
stage. Wallen r as Proctor's general manager, watched the opera- 
tions of every phase of the building, and when RCA bought the 
Keith outfit. Proctor got plenty on his setup. He had Wallen to 
thank for the fact he left a big estate. 

Proctor had a colorless personality. He was in no sense an out- 
stander and made few friends. He very seldom went backstage to 
meet any of the acts; he always watched the front of the house and 
the box-office till. Very few actors knew Mr. Proctor personally. 
Toward the last he had a terrific objection to meeting new people 
or even contacting those whom he had known hut had lost touch 
with. It was almost a phobia. 

He hated drinking men, and those who worked for him around 
Proctor's Fifth Avenue (where he made his headquarters) were 
afraid to be seen going into a saloon on Twenty-eighth Street. But 
a scene door, connected with a scenic studio on what had been the 
stage of the old theater, made it possible for the boys to slip out 
on Twenty-ninth Street without a chance of being caught by the 
boss. The stage doorman was tipped off and when Proctor asked 
for a delinquent, he was told the man was on the stage. Then the 
call boy would rush out and get the man wanted from the bar. 

F. F. Proctor was the first to give his employees insurance; first 
to do dramatic shows with vaude in between; first to reduce admis- 
sion prices between 10 and 11 A.M., 25 cents admitting to orchestra 
and balcony seats. (You thought it was practically a new idea, eh?) 
He established full orchestras. He was first to recognize the value 
of pics and first to play a feature in a first-class theater. He dis- 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 370 

continued vaude at the Fifth Avenue in 1912 and put in a ten-reel 
feature, Intolerance. He pioneered in furnishing nice dressing 
rooms for actors, and was the first to share his profits with em- 
ployees. He was also the first to start advertising in "box style" all 
his theaters. 

Essentially, Proctor was a one-man institution. He was successful 
only through the efforts of others and then only when he would let 
his advisor set the pace. In 1929 he sold his interests to RKO 7 
transferring eleven theaters for an estimated value of sixteen to 
eighteen millions. Clarence Wallen and brother worked for him 
for over forty years. At one time Proctor had fifty theaters! 

When he died at the age of seventy-seven, on September 4, 1929, 
he remembered over 300 persons in his will, and gave $100,000 to 
the Actors 1 Fund. He was a definite part of big- and small-time 
vaude, one of the great pioneers, but was colorless. 

Frederick Freeman Proctor came a long way from being an acro- 
bat in a circus to being one of the top managers and theater owners 
of American vaudeville! 

William Morris 

He was a kid who couldn't talk English and who received very little 
schooling, who delivered papers before school and after supper 
clerked in a grocery store. In the afternoons he carried big bags of 
coal and delivered ice for just a few cents a day. To help support 
the family he worked as an office boy on a cloak and suit trade 
paper, and by the time he was twenty, he "was earning $15,000 a 
year via commissions by soliciting ads. They were about to put his 
name up as a partner, but the 1894 panic came and put the paper 
out of business, and with it, William Morris. 

That was the early career of the man who, born Wilhelm Moses 
in Austria in 1873, later became the greatest independent show- 
man of our time! 


He always had a hankering to get into the business end of the 
show "biz. To him it was a dream world with dream people., so differ- 
ent from the people in the cloak and suit business he knew. After 
being turned down by Mike Leavitt (a big showman at that time) , 
Bill Morris swiped one of his letterheads and wrote to George 
Liman, who was the leading variety agent, telling him "confiden- 
tially" that he was seeking a new connection. He got an appoint- 
ment and told Mr. Liman that he had a lot of experience in the 
agency business and Liman, impressed, offered him $8.00 a week. 
Bill turned it down fiat and finally settled for $9.00 a week. With 
the okaying of the salary, Liman gave him a list of acts and houses 
and told him to "book ? em"! 

Bill got the office boy to tell him about the business, talked to 
actors and managers to get the lowdown (without tipping his mit 
that he was a tyro), and in about a month was made general man- 
ager of the oldest variety agency in New YorkI (Sounds Horatio 
Algerish, doesn't it? But true.) 

Morris helped the managers with his great ideas; he put single 
acts together and made them into valuable doubles instead of medi- 
ocre singles. He looked for novelties, he balanced his shows, and 
they proved money-makers for the theaters he booked. But his 
thoughts ran to big things and big money, and booking Eva 
Tanguay for $55 a week, and she was closed, or booking Emma 
Carus for a Sunday for three bucks, on which he received 15 cents 
commission, didn't appeal to young Morris. When George Liman 
died, his widow got rid of Bill, thinking she could run the business 
herself. So within a month she was out of biz and Bill bought up 
the office furniture for four dollars and stuck his own name on the 
door, the W and M crossing, which became his trade-mark and 
was used on every office door William Morris ever had. (And he 
had plenty of them.) 

By 1900 he was running the biggest independent agency in the 
country. In 1904 he booked twenty-nine weeks and the next year 
he booked the houses of Percy Williams, Proctor, Hammerstein, 
Weber & Rush, Poli, Sheedy, Keeney, and many more. He taught 
Willie Hammerstein showmanship while also teaching him how 
to play pool. He would lay out a bill and ask Willie how he would 
lay it out and how much he would pay each act? And then show 
Willie where he was wrong. In 1906 he could book an act twelve 
weeks in New York City without a repeat. 

These Were the Kings and Rulers . , . 372 

Bill was getting real big, when Albee stepped in and offered the 
managers membership in the United Booking Office, which charged 
commission to acts for playing their own houses, and also split that 
commission with the managers of the U.B.O. It amounted to a lot 
of dough and was great bait. Bill Morris was making a quarter of 
a million a year on commissions; Bill didn't split commissions. So 
one by one the managers, whom Morris had helped to make rich, 
left him to join the U.B.O., where they could partake of this 
unholy graft With nothing to book, he incorporated for $500,000 
and became a manager and also a deep thom in Albee's side. 
Albee hated Morris but respected his showmanship! 

It was Morris who masterminded and did the booking for Klaw 
& Erlanger when they decided to play Advanced Vaudeville in 
opposition to Keith. What Morris didn't know was that they and 
the Shuberts were only in the vaude business to get a big price 
from Keith to quit. They were offered a lot of money to quit in 
the first few weeks, as they were making it expensive for Keith to 
get acts, because Morris was signing up acts for almost double 
what they could get from Keith. K. & E. refused and held out for 
more dough, which they finally got, and quit, leaving Morris high 
and dry. Morris could have sued on his contract with K. & E., but 
tore it up in front of Erlanger (who looked at the torn contract 
to see if it wasn't a phony) . He couldn't believe anybody would do 
such a thing, but he didn't know Bill Morris. 

Never licked, Morris signed Harry Lauder, whom he had booked 
for K. & E. for $2,500 a week and who broke all records. He gave 
Lauder $3,000 a week and also paid the English managers for dates 
that Lauder didn't play there for which he had contracted. (It's 
play or pay in England.) He toured Lauder all over the country, 
with one of the finest publicity campaigns ever given a vaudeville 
performer, and broke all records on the road. With Lauder as 
anchor man, Bill started his own circuit. He got the Boston Music 
Hall (Keith had it, but forgot to exercise his option) . He also took 
over the American Theatre on Forty-second Street and Eighth 
Avenue (a dead theater at the time), where he made his head- 
quarters. He had theaters in Chicago, Boston, and Brooklyn all 
profitable. The U.B.O. blacklisted every act that played for Morris, 
which made it plenty tough, but he was doing great in spite of it. 
The American was making $125,000 a year profit, but when the 
Keith squeeze started to work, there was a dearth of new acts and 


especially headliners. It was then that Morris started the twenty- 
two act shows, and sold the public big shows instead of headliners. 
It worked out great for a while, and then his great friend and right- 
hand man George M. Levebritt died suddenly and Morris began 
having financial troubles. Martin Beck was going to buy out the 
circuit and take over the debts (which Morris insisted on) which 
would have given him the foothold in the East he always wanted, 
but the deal fell through. Finally Marcus Loew stepped in and took 
it over. (Albee wanted to buy Morris out with the proviso that he 
could never go back in the business again, to which Morris said 

By now Bill was a pretty sick man, but he didn't give up. He 
leased the New York Theatre Roof and put in a Coney Island idea 
right on Broadway, which he called Wonderland. He had every- 
thing from a carrousel to all kinds of concessions. He ran contests, 
Cakewalk, etc., and gave out fabulous prizes which he got for free 
from the manufacturers for just mentioning their names (a la Tony 
Pastor, radio, and TV). It didn't pay off, so he gave it up and 
devoted all his time to managing Harry Lauder on his many tours. 
His opposition to regular vaude with his great attraction was still 
bothering Albee and Beck (whose territory he often played) . 

It was in 1920 that Morris broke into the Christian Science 
Monitor with a theatrical ad (the first) . Their policy not to adver- 
tise shows with murder or immoral topics of any sort had kept all 
theatrical ads out until Morris broke the tradition with one for 
the Lauder show. (The New York Hippodrome was second.) 

In 1925 Morris got the idea for a home for show people stricken 
with TB. It was first called Adirondack Tubercular Fund North- 
wood Home, with E. F. Albee as president, Morris as V.P., and 
Col. Williams as treasurer. Later Albee managed to take it over 
and named it the N.V.A. Sanitarium (after his company union) 
and N.V.A. funds were used for its upkeep. When vaude folded, 
so did the N.V.A/S funds, and the picture people took it over, 
renaming it the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital. They too gave it 
up and now it is one of the favorite charities of the famous Variety 
Clubs of America. 

Bill Morris was also the founder of the Jewish Theatrical Guild. 

He left a foundation of good will to his son William Morris, Jr., 
and his daughter Ruth, built up by the most profitable and im- 
portant artists' agency in the world, handling the foremost attrac- 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 374 

tions. William, Jr., has retired as the active head of the agency and 
is now chairman of the board. The agency is headed by Abe Last- 
fogel, who was raised from a kid by Bill Morris, ST., who taught 
him show biz from A way past Z. He is considered one of the 
greatest of all-round showmen in the country today. He is nearly a 
William Morris, which is the highest compliment I can pay him. 

On the death of William Morris (November 2, 1932; he fell over 
with a heart attack while playing cards at his favorite club, the 
Friars), Jack Lait (once press agent for William Morris' Lauder 
attraction, an old Variety mugg and now editor of the New York 
Daily Mirror), wrote an obit in Variety, part of which I would like 
to quote, because he summed it all up by saying: 

"William Morris towered above the personalities and signifi- 
cance of most of the figures in the theatrical world. He has sounded 
the depths and the ratified air above the clouds of theatredom; 
he has been the general of battles that will be told for many years, 
often the general of an army of one; he was beholden to no one, 
was respected and beloved and carried on his inspirational life 
purpose, charity, welfare, tolerance and love until he died. He cried 
only for the griefs of others, for himself he only chuckled. His 
conscience was clean and when his books weren't they were messy 
only from wiping off the debts others owed him. A great man of 
the theatre, and the world!" 

That was Jack Lait's tribute to a great human being. I would like 
to add a salute for myself and all the actors he helped directly and 
indirectly by his independence and charity and as one of the vaude- 
ville managers who didn't sell out their consciences I 

Marcus Loew at the age of thirty-six was in the fur business; so 
was John Jacob Astor many years before him. Astor did much 
better than Loew but Marcus didn't do so bad for a kid who was 


born in a windowless room on the lower East Side, at Avenue B 
and Eighth Street (where he later erected a million-dollar theater). 
His ambition was to be like his dad, who came to America, married 
a German girl, and became a headwaiter, So to become a head- 
waiter would be good enough for Marcus. As a kid Marcus did all 
kinds of odd jobs to help support the family. He worked in a map- 
printing shop for 35 cents a day, peddled newspapers, and did other 
jobs, and finally got into the fur business as a salesman. He saved 
a few bucks and bought himself an equity in an apartment house 
in Harlem. 

At that same time David Warfield, a great comedian with the 
Weber & Field's Company, was doing big and figured it wouldn't 
last long, so stuck about $50,000 in an apartment house right next 
door to Loew's. Marcus went down to see Dave to tell him that he 
could run his apartment house better than the way it was being 
run. Warfield made him his real estate agent and it was the begin- 
ning of a lifelong friendship which made them both millionaires! 
Warfield made more money with Marcus Loew than he did in all 
the years he spent in show biz as a star getting big money under 
the management of David Belascol 

One of Loew's neighbors up in Harlem was Adolph Zukor, who 
was also in the fur business, and they too became pals. In 1906 
Loew saw Zukor, Aaron Jones, and Morris Cohen turn a store into 
a penny arcade, so they could use the penny slot machines they 
were interested in. These arcades were filled with "peek machines," 
where you put in a penny, turned the crank, and saw moving pics 
like "Beauty and the Beast," "In My Harem," "Her Beauty Secret," 
etc. get the idea? You could also put a penny in a machine, put 
earphones to your ears, and hear a record! Marcus joined forces 
with Zukor and his partners and also got Warfield interested. The 
two of them soon quit Zukor and went in for themselves and 
opened their first arcade on Fourteenth Street. Mitchell Mark (who 
later built the first de luxe picture theater in America, the Strand, 
on Broadway) joined Loew and Warfield and in a short time they 
owned four arcades. 

Loew heard of an arcade in Cincinnati (the Hippodrome) that 
wasn't doing so well and was for sale. He bought it and fixed it 
up and soon it was doing fine, and it was really this house that put 
him on the show biz road. He heard about a fellow in Covington, 
across the river, who had a picture machine and who charged five 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 37S 

cents to the natives to look at the pictures. Loew went over to see 
it, and saw a small room with about twenty-five people watching 
these pictures, with the owner explaining them, saying, "Now 
watch him fall/' "Now he's going to hit him!" etc. After the show- 
ing of the picture, the colored boy who cranked the machine did a 
few jig steps. That's what put the "picture bug" in Marcus Loew's 

He bought a pic machine and put it in a small room above the 
Cincinnati Arcade and ran pictures. The first one was "Hot Chest- 
nuts"; it ran about four minutes. People started to come in, eighty 
seats at a nickel a throw; he did over $500 the first week. (The 
first nickelodeon was run by Harry Davis in Pittsburgh, who was 
jamming them in; no seats they had to stand up.) Loew soon 
came back to New York and opened his first picture show on 
Twenty-third Street, which was one of the first nickelodeons in 
the city. He begged Jake Lubin, who was then manager of Miner's 
Eighth Avenue, to go in with Warfield and himself, but Jake 
laughed about it, and gave Marcus plenty of good show advice and 
even some old wiring he had in the theater, which Marcus used to 
wire up his house. Some years later Jake Lubin became the head 
hooker of the Loew Circuit, which position he still holds. 

In six months, with Warfield as a partner, Loew had forty nickel- 
odeons returning 40 per cent on the investment. It was in 1908 that 
an unemployed actor was sent to him by Warfield for a job. There 
was no opening for an operator, cashier, or ticket taker (that's all 
the help he used in each store), so he asked the actor could he re- 
cite "Gunga Din" and "The Road to Mandalay"? The actor could. 
"O.K., go on between the pictures and recite," which meant about 
twenty shows a day. The audience liked it, and he took the actor 
around to all his places and found the box-office receipts better 
with "Mandalay" and "Gunga Din" than without them, so that 
was practically the beginning of vaudeville with Loew. (Years later 
actors almost ruined vaudeville by reciting "Gunga Din.") 

It wasn't very long before booking acts in his theaters was big 
business and Joe and Nick Schenck, owners of the Palisade's 
Amusement Park in New Jersey, joined the organization and Joe 
became head booker, while Marcus Loew was buying up new sites 
for big picture houses, where he now charged io-20-3o-cent admis- 
sion and business was just terrific! 

He was forced to go into the picture business, as he needed a 


large supply for his many houses and there was plenty of competi- 
tion. When Warfield heard about Marcus going into the pic busi- 
ness, he wanted to pull out of the partnership, feeling that Marcus 
was going too far, but Loew told Dave he couldn't draw out be- 
cause they were life partners. Dave stuck and made an extra ten 
million! In 1917 Loew controlled seventeen theaters in France and 
many in Germany (under cover), besides his many theaters in 
New York. The first big picture he was interested in was The Big 
Parade. When he bought the picture company, he couldn't put the 
name of Loew on the films because the other exhibitors refused to 
advertise Loew on their screens, so the company was called Metro- 
Goldwyn-Mayer, or M-G-M. 

He really learned show biz when he got his first picture house at 
Pearl and Willoughby streets in Brooklyn, which Lew Fields told 
him he could get cheap. It was known as Watson's Cozy Corner, a 
burly house that had been raided by police because of dirty shows 
and had a bad name in the neighborhood. It seated 2,000. Loew 
at that time was used to 2oo-seaters and this was a big proposition 
for him. The first thing he did was to book an Italian company 
doing Shakespeare, to get the "stink off the joint." He lost dough 
for a few weeks, but when the house reopened as the Royal Theatre, 
with vaude and pics, the neighborhood had forgotten about Wat- 
son's Cozy Corner. He raised his price to 10 cents (up to now he 
had only had nickel theaters ) . The first day's receipts was exactly 
10 cents! Only one customer came in ? out of curiosity. Loew had 
forgotten to advertise he was going to open! The stagehands went 
out on strike and started picketing the theater day and night; they 
sent out letters all over the neighborhood about the strike at the 
Royal, and people became curious and came in. Loew cleared 
$65,000 that season. 

In 1910 he opened his National Theatre in the Bronx, a beauti- 
ful theater for that time. It was here that Loew got some of the 
great Broadway stars, like Marie Dressier and the Dolly Sisters, to 
make an appearance on Surprise Nights; some just took a bow, 
some did a song or a dance, and they did it without pay just for the 
love they had for Marcus Loew and Joe Schenck. Eva Tanguay 
went on under the name of Dora Doone and was a riot. Loew 
offered George M. Cohan $10,000 for one week: Cohan refused. 
(This is the place the Bronx cheer started.) 

One of his first big houses was Loew's Delancey Street, which 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 378 

was in the heart of the ghetto. One summer day Loew went down 
to see how things were going in his beautiful playhouse and was 
horrified to see men going in without coats or ties. He told Mike, 
the doorman (a big Irishman) , not to let anyone in without a coat 
or tie, they weren't going to make a dump out of his new beautiful 
theater. The next day the manager received a lot of complaints 
about Mike; in fact, some of the patrons were ready to lynch him. 
After investigation it was found that Mike was carrying out Mr. 
Loew's orders a little too harshly, grabbing a patron's long beard 
and lifting it up to make sure he had a tie on. The order was 
rescindedl It was at this house where a monologist, while doing his 
act, saw a mother nursing her baby at the breast; the kid started 
to cry and the lady said, sternly, "If you don't take it, I'll give it 
to the hector!" 

When Loew bought out the Sullivan & Considine Circuit to 
extend the Loew Circuit from coast to coast, he tried to put in his 
regular policy of vaude and pics with continuous performances. 
The Western people were accustomed to a matinee and two shows 
at night. They liked to go home for their supper and then come to 
a fresh theater. Loew believed he could educate them to his way. 
He was about a million dollars wrong, and after a year of experi- 
menting, he gave the theaters back to S. & C. (He was just ahead 
of the times, as some years later the West was full of continuous 

E. F. Albee at first paid no attention to Loew and his circuit, but 
as Loew got bigger and bigger the old man became a bit nervous, 
realizing that he was already a threat to his small "family" time 
and maybe if he got too ambitious he might get an idea to enter 
the Big Time. Loew did play a big-time act as a feature; it didn't 
bring any more money at the box office, but it was sort of a present 
to the loyal audiences he had built up. The audiences liked it be- 
cause it smelt of "class," but it was really the picture that counted 
in those days. Orville Harold, a Metropolitan Opera tenor, was 
offered booking on the Loew Circuit for $5,000 a week. He said he 
would take it on condition that Mr. Loew sign his contract per- 
sonally. It took Mr. Loew weeks to get around to it and when he 
finally did, he asked Orville why he wanted him to sign the con- 
tract personally? Orville, with a triumphant smile, said, "Because 
I worked for you years ago for $40 a week and when I asked you 
for $50 you wouldn't pay it, so I quit Now you're paying me 


$5,000 a week!" Loew smiled and said, "Believe me 7 Orville, I 
would have paid you $50 if you were worth it." 

Sime, the publisher of Variety, had something in that bible of 
show biz that caused Marcus Loew to get very angry. (He and 
Sime were great pals.) When he met Sime he told him how wrong 
the article was and that he was real mad about it. Sime said, "Why 
don't you take a page ad in Variety and tell your side of it?" "How 
much is a page?" asked Loew. "$400," said Sime. "That mad I ain'tr 
said Loew. 

Marcus Loew didn't look like a showman; he looked more like 
a semiprosperous furrier or tailor. He never wore any jewelry, and 
although his clothes were of the best, they didn't make him look 
distinguished. He was a very modest and mild-mannered man. He 
treated the smallest actor like he did the biggest star, with courtesy 
and kindness. Actors never had any contract trouble with the Loew 
Circuit. Joe Schenck and later Jake Lubin and Marvin Schenck, 
the bookers of the circuit, were square guys who followed the Loew 
code: their word was their bond! 

At a testimonial dinner given to him by the White Rats 7 Loew 
was introduced by Will Rogers as "the Henry Ford of show busi- 
ness." In 1926 he was the first in show biz to receive France's 
Legion of Honor decoration. He loved to play pinochle with his 
cronies, and when he won he would accidentally knock over the 
table and the chips would get all mixed up and nobody had to pay 
off. He bought the famous Penbroke Estate at Glen Cove, Long 
Island, for a million dollars (a few months later he was offered 
five million for it). It was really a big castle with some forty odd 
rooms. On week ends there were 100 to 150 people there, guests 
of his twin sons, David and Arthur (both fine showmen) and his 
wife. Marcus wouldn't know a half-dozen there, and would usu- 
ally go up to his rooms with some old friends and spend the week 
end playing pinochle. 

Loew's early methods didn't set well with the older showmen,, 
particularly his scheme of giving away thousands of free passes 
through department stores, but it put his new houses on the map. 
He was without a doubt the big power of the small-time show biz. 
He built 150 theaters, 125 of them de luxe; he built twenty-eight 
in a single year. But his State Theatre on Broadway and Forty-fifth 
Street, New York, was his dream baby. When the State was in 
the course of construction, he would watch every day from the 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 380 

windows of his office in the Putnam Building (where the Para- 
mount now stands). One day he turned to Jake Lubin and said, 
"Jake, I'm going to give you 3,000 shares of stock in the company." 
Jake beamed. "And/' continued Loew, "III take so much a week 
out of your salary." Jake unbeamed. He beamed again years later 
when he sold some of his stock for $60,000. 

In spite of the State being classed small time as against the 
Palace Big Time, some of the tops in vaudeville played there, in- 
cluding Eva Tanguay, Jack Dempsey, and Jack Benny, who acted 
as M.C. (doubling with the Little Club). Milton Berle played 
the No. 3 spot and later made his first real big hit at the Palace, just 
a few blocks up the street. Clayton, Jackson & Durante made their 
first stage appearance there, as did nearly all of the top columnists 
and bands. 

Loew never drove a bargain in which the other fellow lost. He 
was loyal to his employees and they in turn were loyal to him. In 
the Loew organization today over 50 per cent of the personnel have 
been with it thirty years or more. 

Marcus Loew died in 1927, at the age of fifty-seven. A friend said 
he was burned out with worrying about his friends and others who 
had invested in his business. He was a sweet, kind, charitable 
gentleman, who tried to give everybody a decent shake. He may 
have been the king of small time, but he personally was strictly 
Big Timel 

It in the Family 

Show business and the public today both know almost all about 
Oscar Hammerstein, 2d -that he made four million dollars on 
Broadway by his lyrics and plays. 

Even some of the show biz newies must know about Oscar 2d's 
uncle, Arthur Hammerstein, whose musical-comedy successes of 
the 19205, such as The Firefly, Naughty Marietta, High Jinks, 
Rose Marie, Sometime, Blue Kitten, Song of the Flame, and 


Golden Dctwn, are just a few that made theatrical history. And of 
that era, many of voting age will also recall the beauteous and 
talented Elaine Hammerstein, silent screen star, who was Arthur's 
sister. As for the saga of the first Oscar Hammerstein, who came to 
America from Berlin when he was about fifteen, started as a cigar 
maker, and became one of the greatest impresarios of grand opera, 
that is now theater lore. 

It is mainly of Oscar's son and Arthur's brother and Oscar id's 
father, the fantastic Willie Hammerstein, that I want to tell you, 
because he was so close to vaudeville, but a reprise of the Hammer- 
stein dynasty proves that genius certainly runs in the family. (Inci- 
dentally, today's Williamson Music Company is a tribute by 
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, 2d 7 to their fathers, both 
of whom were first-named William. But whereas the composer's 
dad was formally Dr. William Rodgers, Oscar's dad was always 
most informally Willie Hammerstein! ) 

It was through his management and great showmanship that 
Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre became the greatest and most 
colorful vaudeville theater in the world* In its seventeen years it 
grossed twenty million and made five million profit for Hammer- 
stein. (It was only a i^zjo-seater.) However, it isn't the money but 
the "fun" Willie had making it that I believe will interest you. 
Talent and showmanship were never rationed in the Hammer- 
stein clan. 

In his day, Oscar ist discovered more musical and operatic talent 
than any of his contemporaries. But among the old vaude fans and 
actors, he will always be remembered for building the famous 
Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre and Music Hall. On the site of an 
old barn, on Forty-second Street arid Seventh Avenue, he built this 
"freak" house with old building materials, because of his shortage 
of cash (one of the many times) . It was a combination theater and 
music hall and roof garden, playing the great dramas and musical 
and variety shows. Drinks were served during the performance; 
the bar was never closed during all the time Hammerstein's was 
open. (There were bars in only two New York theaters; the other 
one was, and still is, at the Metropolitan Opera House.) The last 
show at this house was on April 26, 1915, just beating Exhibition 
by a couple of years. 

The Victoria was Oscar's fifth plunge in theater building. His 
first was the city's first theater north of Central Park, the Harlem 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 382 

Opera House, built in 1889. He then built the Columbia on East 
i25th Street (also known as Theatre Comique and Harlem 
Theatre), which was bought in 1900 by F. F, Proctor for his con- 
tinuous vaudeville and stock companies. Hammerstein built the 
Manhattan Opera House, at a cost of $350,000, on Broadway and 
Thirty-fourth Street (now Macy's), which opened as Koster and 
BiaFs Music Hall. (Hammerstein was their partner for a short 
time. Their original saloon-concert hall with the famous cork room 
was on Twenty-third Street and Sixth Avenue.) In 1889 Hammer- 
stein's fourth plunge was the Olympia Theatre (later called the 
New York Theater) on Broadway between Forty-fourth and Forty- 
fifth streets on the east side of the street. The space was originally 
occupied by the yist Regiment Armory. (Times Square was known 
as "Thieves' Lair." Broadway from Forty-second to Fiftieth streets 
was lit by gas light and was deserted at night.) Everybody said 
Oscar was crazy. The Olympia was a combined music hall, theater, 
roof garden, Oriental cafe, and billiard hall, with lounging, smok- 
ing, and cloak rooms, all for a 5o-cent admission. The music hall 
was devoted to vaude. The opening bill had Yvette Guilbert, who 
was a big hit. The building also housed the Criterion Theatre 
(originally called the Lyric), where they played legit. It was on 
the New York Roof that Ziegfeld first played his Follies. The open- 
ing of the Olympia was the talk of the town. Oscar lost it when 
the New York Life Insurance Company foreclosed on a $900,000 

Again Oscar was broke. On June 29, 1898, the day the Olympia 
was being sold, there were benefits given for him at the Garden 
Theatre, Harlem Opera House, and the Columbia Theatre, which 
raised about $8,000, and a few months later the first dirt was 
shoveled for the Victoria. In 1900 his sixth plunge was erecting the 
Belasco Theatre (west of Hammerstein's on Forty-second Street). 
It was on the site of the ill-famed McGory's Dance Hall. The 
Belasco was later called the Republic, playing dramas, and years 
later received national publicity when Minsky's took it over for 
their burlesque and strip-teaser. It is now a grind picture house. 
In 1904 Oscar built the Fields Theatre, on the south side of Forty- 
second Street, and leased it to Lew Fields for his stock company. 
It was a duplicate of the Republic Theatre. In 1905 it was named 
the Hackett, and six years later the Harris, then WallacFs, and 
finally the Carroll (Earl Carroll owned it by then). 


Hammerstein's next plunge was to build the Manhattan Opera 
House on the north side of Thirty-fourth Street between Eighth 
and Ninth avenues. It was originally called the Drury Lane, and 
was built on the old piano factory site of Decker & Company, 
which Oscar bought for $200,000. Oscar started building it in 1901, 
and as the money came in he would go ahead. When Fregoli, the 
great protean artist, was at the Victoria, business was very good, 
and it was said he "put the roof on the Manhattan." It was at the 
Manhattan that Oscar first circused grand opera, selling a ticket for 
$6.00 which entitled the holder to see two operas in one day 
Elektra at the matinee and Salome in the evening. He went along 
with his operas until he had a fuss with Mrs, Clarence Mackay, 
who gathered her wealthy friends and walked back to the Met. 
Oscar said, "She took the roof off my opera house." 

In 1910 at this same opera house he inaugurated a twenty-four- 
act vaude bill, the first and only three-ring vaudeville. It started 
at 7:30 and lasted until midnight, and then the picture went on! 
Maggie Cline, the headliner, said, "The walk across the stage from 
Eighth to Ninth Avenue will be the death of me." Years later, 
Frisco said about the Roxy, "Don't get caught on the Roxy stage 
without bread and water." At 8:20 the eleventh act was on. Dumb 
acts were shoved on three at a time. Lightning Hopper, a cartoon- 
ist, Chester Johnston, a cyclist, and Edith Raymond, on the wire, 
were on all at once, as was Saona with impersonations, the Jug- 
gling Jewels, and Arusa, hand balancer. It was a financial failure. 

When Hammerstem was trying to sell the Manhattan, Marcus 
Loew came around to dicker for it. 'Til pay you $100,000 down and 
$100,000 for four years. After the first year if I find I don't want the 
house I'll turn the key over to you." Oscar looked at him and said, 
"Mr. Loew, just around the corner is Ludwig Baumann's furniture 
store. Go deal with him. I don't sell theaters on the installment 
plan." So Loew left, and built the Greeley Square, at Thirtieth 
Street and Sixth Avenuel 

There were many stories told about Oscar when he was in opera. 
The employees knew when he showed up with a slouch hat that 
it meant trouble, but when he wore his high hat, everything was 
O.K. He paid Mischa Elman $1,000 to play the "Meditation" from 
Thais; Elman was not a member of the Musicians' Union, so 
Oscar put a chair in the aisle next to the musicians for him. 

In 1906, when he went to sign Melba, he couldn't get a definite 

These Wer& the Kings and Rulers ... 384 

answer from her. Throwing thirty $100 bills on the floor, he said, 
"If you're afraid of your salary, Fll pay you in advance." "Wait," 
said Melba, "I will sing for you for nothing." In 1908 he built an 
opera house in Philadelphia at Broad and Poplar streets. Melba 
was supposed to open but was sick, and Tetrazzini filled in and 
was a riot. He built an opera house in London and the Lexington 
Opera House in New York, which opened with pictures because 
by the time it was finished Hamrnerstein had sold out to the Metro- 
politan Opera Company for more than two million dollars and 
was forbidden to have anything to do with grand opera for twenty 

Oscar was a very versatile man and, contrary to popular belief, 
he did not speak with an accent. He played violin and piano pretty 
well. In 1893 ne ma d e a bet w ^h Gustave Kerker (director of 
operas) that he could write an opera in forty-eight hours. He shut 
himself in the Gilsey House (Broadway and Twenty-ninth Street) 
and wrote The Koh-i-noor Diamond! Kerker refused to pay the bet, 
saying it wasn't what an opera should be. Oscar produced it at 
the Harlem Opera House to a gross of $400, but he had fun! 

The first Mrs. Hammerstein (Rose Blau) was mother of Harry, 
Arthur, William, and Abe. When she died Oscar married Malvina 
Jacoby, by whom he had two daughters, Stella and Rose. He 
divorced Malvina and married Mrs. Emma Swift (he was sixty-four; 
she was thirty-two) in 1914, after losing three of his four sons within 
a period of five months. Harry, the oldest, went to New London 
with his regiment and died that night. Abe was always sickly, and 
Willie went suddenly. The only son left was Arthur. When Malvina 
died he paid the alimony to his two daughters. 

Making money was a pastime for the elder Hammerstein; han- 
dling it was a nuisance. Many is the time his son Willie had to 
shove a $5.00 bill in his dad's pocket. Willie also would take the 
money out of the till, because his dad would think nothing of tak- 
ing it all with no accounting. He paid his bills if there was money 
in the box office; if there wasn't, he would just let it go until 
there was. 

Truly a fantastic figure was this Oscar Hammerstein, who made 
"heatrical history with a deskless office, a bookless bookkeeper, a 
eversible plug hat, a gold-headed cane, and a Van Dyke beard. He 
nvented many work-saving devices for the cigar business, which 
cept him in fresh money. The management of the Victoria was 


turned over to Willie to ran as he liked and he liked to run it. 
When Oscar was in the grand opera business, he would spit at the 
Victoria's box office and say, "Phooey on this cheap business!" 

And so this is the character of the father of Arthur and Willie, 
Stella and Elaine, and the grandfather of Oscar 2d, a great show- 

In the twenty years that Willie Hammerstein managed the Vic- 
toria, he brought more new ideas and received more newspaper 
space for his attractions than any manager in our generation! He 
violated all managerial traditions by coming to work at 8 A.M. and 
quitting at 9:30 p.M. 7 when he would go right home. He was 
known by everybody on Broadway, but he never went for the night 
life of the Big Street. His home was entirely separate and distinct 
from his theater life. With the exception of a very few intimate 
friends, he never invited anyone to his home. In his twenty years 
as manager, he never saw a play at any other theater and only once 
did he drop in next door at the Belasco to see part of an act of 
The Girl from the Golden West. His only office was the lobby of 
his theater, sitting in a crooked chair surrounded by his cronies- 
actors, press agents, playwrights, managers, wine salesmen, vaude- 
ville agents, bookers, gamblers, and screwballs. He loved these 
characters who would gather in the lobby while the show was 
going on. From them he would get the gossip and new stories of 
Broadway. The admission to this inner circle was being funny or 
interesting. Willie possessed a grand sense of humor and was a 
great practical joker (all done with a dead pan). 

Before he got to the Victoria, he opened the Imperial Gardens 
with George Blumenthal (who later became a manager and pal of 
Oscar's) as his partner. The beer garden was on noth Street, next 
to Dietrich's. (Willie started his vaude career there.) The place 
was backed by Ruppert's. Harry Piker was call boy and kept the 
stage and dressing rooms clean, besides helping sling beer; he would 
also go on and do a dance and a short act. Willie hired John 
Rynland, the Negro superintendent at the Empire Theatre, to 
press-agent the place by riding a bicycle and doing stunts; he had 
a funny laugh. He'd start at Ninety-sixth Street and bring crowds 
to the Imperial Gardens. He got 50 cents and all the food and beer 
he could consume. The partners then took over the Criterion 
Theatre, Brooklyn, to do stock. They paid $100 a week rent and 
had to borrow the first hundred. They divided with the actors 5050. 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 388 

You could always get "peck and pad" money from Willie. He 
was a soft touch. As a youngster he was an advance agent for a 
Davis & Keogh melodrama, went broke, and knew what it was to 
face long summers without money on Broadway. He never re- 
fused the courtesy of the house to any show people. He anticipated 
a request for an Annie Oakley; he woiild size you up as you ap- 
proached him and say, "Sure, step right in and grab a seat." If 
you couldn't find a seat, you'd stand up with the "rail birds/ 7 They 
were the inner circle of Hammerstein's. They would drop in and 
stand back of the orchestra, see an act or two, or maybe just part 
of some act they particularly enjoyed. They would make wise- 
cracks for or against the acts. There were more wisecracks and 
"nifties" pulled at Hammerstein's in a minute than one now hears 
on Broadway in a week. The wits and their half-brothers liked to 
stand behind the rail; it made them one of elite -and show-wise! 

"Characters" were attracted to Hammerstein's like Damon to 
Pythias or Winchell to Runyon. There was little Jimmy Bell, a 
screwy boy tenor, who would amuse the gang by standing on one 
foot while singing, and for a few extra pennies he'd even shut one 
eye, "to make it harder." One of the famous characters on Broad- 
way in those days was Doc Steiner, a vaude agent with a thick 
German accent that matched his thick eyeglasses. He not only wore 
glasses, but he liked to empty them. He wasn't a funny man, but 
was a great foil for Willie, whom he adored. I remember the time 
when Willie and Houdini, the world's greatest escape artist, framed 
the Doc. Willie one night started to argue with Houdini, in front 
of the gang, that he couldn't release a man from a pair of hand- 
cuffs if Willie furnished them and the man. Idea was that there 
would be no collusion with Houdini and no pretampering with the 
cuffs. The argument grew long and loud and finally they both put 
up $100. Willie said the only man he could trust was his pal, 
Doc Steiner. He sent him to the West Forty-seventh Street police 
station to get a pair of handcuffs, and when he returned, he said 
Doc was the only man he'd trust not to double-cross him with 
Houdini. Doc was flattered. The cuffs were placed on one of Doc's 
wrists and the other end was locked to the radiator pipe in the 
lobby. The radiator was plenty hot! Houdini started working on 
the cuffs and the more he tried to open them the madder he got. 
Everything seemed to go wrong. One by one the bystanders walked 
away. Finally Houdini, disgusted with his failure, also walked away. 


Doc was left alone, handcuffed to the radiator pipe. It was hours 
later that a detective walked in and released him. The Doc lost 
five pounds. After a good laugh and a few drinks. Doc once again 
was ready for another of Willie's practical jokes! 

Another time a screwball made an application for a tryout He 
told Willie that he not only could sing better than Caruso, but 
louder! "How much louder?" asked Willie. "I can make my voice 
carry for three blocks/' said the lamster from a nut factory. Willie 
told him to go over to the Times building across the street and 
sing as loud as he could, and if he heard him he would wave his 
hand. The fellow walked over to the Times building, the noisiest 
spot in town, and started to sing at the top of his voice for nearly 
half an hour without seeing Willie wave his hand. By this time 
he had a mob around him and almost got pinched for obstructing 
traffic. He finally came back for a decision from Willie, who asked 
him, "What's the matter, did your voice go back on you?" 

His sense of humor and of the ridiculous just fit him for the 
task of managing Hammerstein's. As a headline hunter he had no 
equal. He inaugurated the "freak act" in vaudeville. He booked all 
the prominent fighters, wrestlers, and bicycle and running cham- 
pions. He played the killers and near killers. A couple of comely 
girls, Lillian Graham and Ethel Conrad, shot at W. E, D. Stokes, 
a socialite realtor. The bullet struck the three-initialed gentleman 
in the leg and he promptly had the gals arrested. The newspapers 
were filled with the accounts of the shooting, Willie went bail for 
the girls and booked them for Hammerstein's, billing them as 'The 
Shooting Stars." They couldn't sing, dance, or act, but jammed 
the house. After seeing the act, Junie McCree (a noted wit) re- 
marked, "They'll be lucky if they finish the week without some- 
one taking a shot at theml" 

Hammerstein also played Nan Paterson, who shot Caesar Young 
in a cab, but didn't kill him. Willie paid her $500 a week. A little 
lady by the name of Beulah Binford didn't kill, but a man killed 
his wife for her, which she figured should make her a headliner, 
but that was too raw even for Willie, so she hired the Garden 
Theatre and played a maid in a sketch. There were forty-nine 
people one night who showed up to see her; that was her top at- 
tendance for a week at 10-20-30 prices. She gave up. Florence 
Carmen, the wife of a Long Island M.D., accused of shooting at a 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 388 

woman patient of her husband's through a window in her Freeport, 
Long Island, home, got booked. She sang "Baby Shoes." 

A freak engagement is made with the deliberate object of pro- 
motion, the financial profit being secondary. People come to the 
theater who have never been there, or have been there very seldom, 
They see the rest of the show and like it, thus becoming a cus- 
tomer. Willie made Hammerstein's an institution, and as my friend 
Channing Pollock once said, he took care it wasn't an institution 
for the blind. He taught the public the danger of trifling with a 
young girl's affections. He booked Mae Sullivan, who won fame 
by suing a certain rich man for breach of promise. Her talents 
seemed limited to love and litigation. Willie once said, "The 
clamor is for novelty. You can't class this house as a vaudeville 
theater. Get a new name for it. The agents can't supply the de- 
mand for novelty, so you must invent and furnish it yourself/' 

Hammerstein's had some of the greatest press agents in the busi- 
ness! Willie gave them plenty of leeway. Abe Levy, Ann Marble, 
Nellie Revell, John Pollack, Joe Flynn, and Morris Gest were all 
tops and could cook up many novel ideas of publicity, but Willie 
was the commander in chief! 

The Roof was an institution in itself. It occupied the roofs of 
both the Republic (nee Belasco) Theatre and Hammerstein's. It 
was originally called the Paradise Roof, and was later changed to 
Hammerstein's Roof Gardens. He billed the attractions up there 
as "Hytone Vaudeville." It opened in 1900 as a circus, but when 
it rained there was trouble getting the animals downstairs. The 
city wouldn't let Haminerstein put up the skeleton roof he wanted. 
He finally did it little by little, and the city let him get away with 
it. Willie had a farm up there, cows and beautiful milkmaids, a 
man with a ly-foot beard, and Sober Sue, whom nobody could 
make laugh. Willie offered prizes to top comedians if they could 
make her laugh. There was a gimmick; the poor colored gal had 
paralyzed facial muscles and, though she could laugh inwardly, 
she never showed it. They had acts, music it was a great hangout 
for those who had to stay in the city in the hot summer days. The 
stage was like a fight arena; acts made their entrance through the 
audience. (Theater in the round?) 

The Roof was enclosed in glass, and you can imagine how hot it 
was after the sun had beat down on the glass all day. There was 
no cooling system in those days. But Willie thought up a great 


idea. He had the elevator that brought you up to the roof heated, 
and when you got out on the roof it seemed at least 100 per cent 
cooler. He tried all kinds of experiments on the roof, including 
amateur nights, and special nights where all the actors playing 
downstairs would play an afterpiece for fun. Aaron Kessler, who 
was Willie's able assistant, put in small-time acts with pictures and 
a Negro orchestra to whose music people tangoed. He booked Mile. 
Polaire and billed her as the ugliest woman in the world with the 
smallest waist, and business was so good he switched to $2.00 vaude- 
ville with her. 

Hammerstein's played a great list of attractions; the body of his 
shows consisted of standard acts, then he'd play some fakes, some 
real novelties. The late Morris Gest, who started as a sidewalk 
ticket speculator in front of the Victoria (some said he was Willie's 
private spec) and finished as one of the real great producers of 
Broadway, became a scout for some of Willie's "dream acts." (He'd 
dream up some fake.) Gest told me about the time Willie sent him 
to Europe to dig up a Turkish attraction. At that time there was a 
lot of talk about a Turkish Republic; the young Turks were on the 
verge of a revolution, and the newspapers were full of it. Willie 
figured anything Turkish would bring ? em in. Gest's instructions 
were to get a Turk with three wives or a reasonable facsimile. 

At a small variety house in Lucerne, Gest saw an artist who did 
quick oil sketches. His name was Adolph Schneider, and he was a 
very intelligent fellow who spoke four or five languages (but no 
Turkish), and had a wife, daughter, and sister-in-law traveling with 
him. Gest unfolded Willie's plot, and it was easy to talk Schneider 
into coming to America for a salary he had never even dreamed of. 
They went to Adrianople and were outfitted with complete Turk- 
ish outfits for the three "wives" and himself. They learned a few 
Turkish words and were coached as to their actions and behavior. 
Then they notified the New York Herald correspondent in Paris 
that Abdul Kadar (Schneider's new name), court artist of the Turk- 
ish Sultan, was en route with his three wives to New York. 

They played in Paris and created a sensation, and their coming 
to America was cabled and played up by the New York papers. On 
the boat whenever passengers asked them a question they sank 
to their knees and prayed to Allah. It kept them from having to 
answer. They became lie passengers' pets when the ships' reporters 
came aboard. Immigration officials sent the entire outfit to Ellis 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 390 

Island, where they were detained while the official status of the 
three wives was refeired to Washington. (Willie, under a different 
name, made the complaint to the authorities.) The conflict with 
the Immigration officials got plenty of newspaper space. Willie 
finally put up a bond guaranteeing that the Turk and his wives 
would leave the country in due time and that they wouldn't be a 
financial burden to the good citizens of the U.S. 

He sent them to the Waldorf-Astoria for accommodations. They 
were refused (a guy with three wives and only one house detec- 
tive In the place) . They then went to several other big hotels with 
their forty pieces of baggage, and of course a parade of newspaper- 
men and photographers, and they were turned down by all the big 
hotels. Willie finally put them up in a swanky furnished apartment 
(which he had ready all the time). Abdul Kadar and His Three 
Wives appeared at Hammerstein's; he painted quick sketches in oil 
while the "wives" graced the stage, doing nothing except to remove 
the sketches when he finished. He was a sensation for many weeks 
and when he finished his engagement he bought a home in Atlantic 
City and lived there under his real name with his family for many 
years on the profits he made at Hammers tein's! 

The biggest receipts at Hamrnerstein's were from Evelyn Nesbit's 
engagement. After the sensational testimony and the notoriety she 
received in the famous White-Thaw case, no manager would give 
her a job, Willie sent her to London, where she played for a few 
weeks (the English were very polite to her), but cables came to 
America about her tremendous success as a dancer. Newspapers 
those days would accept news from abroad and feature it, but 
wouldn't touch the same story (especially theatrical stuff) If com- 
ing from America. When Miss Nesbit came to New York, she was 
an object of great curiosity. Willie had her billed as Mrs. Harry 
Thaw, to which she objected and made him change it to Evelyn 
Nesbit. The first week she played Hammerstein's, luck was with 
Willie from a publicity standpoint. Harry Thaw escaped from 
Matawan. Instantly Evelyn became the center of attention by de- 
claring in a dramatic manner that she feared for her life, now that 
Harry was free. Willie got a detail of police (in uniform, of 
course) to guard her day and night. Some people even accused 
Willie of engineering Thaw's escape! Evelyn became the most 
talked-of woman in the world. Hammerstein's made an $80,000 
profit on her eight-week engagement and paid her $3,500 a week. 


Jack Clifford was her dancing partner. She went on tour and be 
came a big box-office draw. Morris Gest managed her, and he and 
his associates made $100,000 on her tour; even the conservative 
Keith Circuit played her for many seasons. 

Another attraction Morris Gest told me about was Machnow, an 
ignorant Russian peasant, who was 9 feet 2. inches tall. Circus and 
freak shows tried to get him to America, but he feared the ocean 
voyage. Willie sent Gest to get him. He got him to sign a con- 
tract easily enough, but on the day of sailing he refused to go. Gest 
got two hotel porters in showy uniforms, introduced them as police 
officers, and Machnow was told they had to take him to the Cap- 
tain on a warship who was in command of the city. He got on the 
ship, and when it started to move it took ten sailors to hold him 
down. He had a terrific appetite; ten bottles of soda and thirty 
oranges was a good lunch. He slept in the private passageway on 
the floor as the berths were too small. Arriving in America, there 
was more trouble with the immigration officers; they not only re- 
fused him admittance but ruled he was an imbecile. Willie put up 
a bond and Machnow opened at Hammerstein's and was a sensa- 
tion doing absolutely nothing! Later needing more publicity, 
Willie had Machnow pinched for walking on the grass in Central 
Park. He wouldn't fit in the patrol wagon more publicity, more 
pictures, more business. 

Ann Marble, then Willie's press agent, went to Washington and 
telegraphed to Willie in the name of Teddy Roosevelt that he 
wished to see the giant. Through influence, Ann Marble finally got 
the O.K. from T.R., and Willie chartered a special train for news- 
papermen. The giant met the President and turned his back on 
him, claiming that they were playing a joke, that it wasn't really 
the President of the United States. How could he be? There were 
no soldiers around him and he didn't wear a uniform. He was 
finally convinced and the story went all over the world, which made 
Machnow a great attraction for many more weeks. He took enough 
rubles back to Russia to finance a private revolution. 

Willie believed that one of the greatest attractions he ever had 
was Gertrude Hoffman as Salom6. The Salome craze was at its 
height in Europe, and Willie read a description of the dance that 
Maude Allen was doing in London at the Palace Music Hall. See- 
ing Gertrude Hoffman seated in a box with her husband and 
musical director, Max, he convinced her that she should be the 

These Were the Kings and Rulers . . . 392 

first to do it here, as she already had a big name in vaude and this 
would make her bigger. It didn't take Willie long to convince any- 
body and in a few days she and her husband sailed under the name 
of Mr. and Mrs. Adams, as they didn't want anyone to know they 
were going over to see Maude Allen, It didn't take her long to see 
what Miss Allen was doing and she returned to America. When she 
put the act in rehearsal here, Oscar heard about it and objected. 
"I have just engaged Mary Garden to sing Salom6 at my Opera 
House; we cannot have two of them." This tied the act up for 
awhile, but soon he gave his O.K. and "A Vision of Salome ' was 
put on and was positively sensational. It ran for twenty-two weeks, 
which was the longest run for any attraction at Hammers tein's. 
There were literally hundreds of Salome acts after this. 

Willie could make an attraction out of almost anybody. With 
his genius for publicity and sensing what people wanted, he could 
make a money-maker out of an obscure person. There was a girl by 
the name of Flossie Crane who worked in Smith's Caf6 at Coney 
Island, which was one of the best-known and popular resorts of 
the Island. She was a raw-looking, gawky gal, strictly country style. 
She seemed to have two voices, changing from baritone to soprano. 
The crowd would laugh. Willie sent for her. It took a long time 
for him to convince her that she wasn't being kidded when he 
offered her a job at his theater. She rehearsed an act and Willie 
billed her like a circus "New Discovery, Flossie Crane, the Girl 
from Coney Island." 

"You know, people like that," said Willie. "'People like to dis- 
cover talent, especially a poor girl from a saloon; Cinderella stuff 
always gets them." She went on and did fairly well, proving a good 
drawing card while she lasted. Hammerstein had her under con- 
tract for $50 a week, and got her other dates for $250 and made 
the difference. 

He took Rajah, a snake charmer at Huber's Museum on Four- 
teenth Street, had her put on a dance with a snake, and she be- 
came a headliner for many years. Ruth St. Denis, the famous art 
dancer, first was presented at Proctor's Twenty-third Street under 
the name of Radha and was a failure at $750 a week. A few years 
later Willie hired her, changed her name, publicized her, and paid 
her $2,000 a week for almost the same dance, and she became one 
of the country's most famous dancers! 

Lady Francis Hope, originally May Yohe, who married the 


owner of the famous Hope Diamond, was once booked at the 
New York Theatre, to sing a few songs and show the famous 
$100,000 Hope Diamond. When she played for Willie later, he put 
in the contract that Lord Hope had to stand in the lobby; for this 
he paid them $1,500 a week. He later played her for $1,000 a week, 
and much later, when bad times hit May and there was no Hope 
(having been divorced), he played her for $75 a week. She was 
then married to Jack McAuliffe, the fighter. 

Willie booked the famous Dr. Cook, phony North Pole explorer, 
who claimed it was he, not Admiral Peary, who discovered the Pole 
and had a lot of publicity about it. He made two spiels a day and 
received $1,000 a week, but he didn't draw. Bessie DeVoie, who 
gained much publicity for getting love letters from millionaire 
Frank Gould, also fliwed. 

Don, the Talking Dog, who could say "Hunger" and "Kiicheri" 
and that's about all; was a great attraction at the Corner because 
of Loney Haskell's monologue on him while the trainer tried to 
make him talk. Countess Swirsky made them laugh at a classic 
dance she did (they weren't supposed to laugh) for $750 a week 
and jammed them in. 

Willie heard about a Hindu playing a small music hall in Lon- 
don, had him dressed up as a "titled" Persian, provided him with 
a retinue of native servants, and the ship news reporters went hook, 
line, and press release for him. He was billed as "Shekla, the Court 
Magician to the Shah of Persia." He was a big hit for a whole 
summer. Most of the "freak acts" had no specialty, and that was 
where Loney Haskell, an old monologist, and then working as 
assistant to Willie, came in. He would go on, make the pitch, 
answer questions, get laughs, etc., for the acts that didn't do any- 

The biggest fake attraction at the Corner was Carmencita, the 
dancer. Way back in 1894 when Koster and Dial's Music Hall was 
the center of gay life in New York, there had been a famous dancer 
named Carmencita. She was the idol of the wolves of that day and 
was a sensation. When the original Carmencita had been dead for 
over six years, Willie engineered a "farewell 7 appearance for her. 
Next door at the Belasco, The Rose of the Rancho was playing, 
and in the show there was a former chorus girl who interpreted a 
Spanish dance in the drama. She became Willie's "Carmencita/' 
He signed her to a contract, sent her to Europe, and agents there 

These Were the Kings and Rulers . . . 394 

cabled about her success. She came back to America, grabbed lots 
of newspaper space about her old triumphs (nobody bothering to 
check up that she had been dead six years), opened at Hammer- 
stein's, and was a riot! Billed as "Reappearance of the famous 
dancer, Carmencita, after an absence of ten years." All the old- 
timers and tired wolves came to see her once more. Nobody ever 
discovered that she had been an obscure dancer next door to Ham- 
merstein's only a few months before. 

Al Jolson first played Hammerstein's as a single in New York 
and proved one of the biggest hits that ever played the house. He 
went back to Dockstader's Minstrels for much less money, but he 
liked it The aristocrats and the blue bloods of vaudeville all ap- 
peared at Hammerstein's! 

Like Tony Pastor, you didn't need a contract with Willie. When 
he said, "O.K., you play here week of so-and-so/' that was as good 
as a contract. One week he would book an act that drew a lot of 
women who acted like men, and the next week he'd book an act 
that drew a lot of men who acted like women. Willie was neutral; 
anything for a laugh, especially if it would jam 'em in. 

Between packin' *em in and dreaming up headliners and playing 
practical jokes, Willie found recreation playing horses, poker, 
pinochle, and shooting craps. He once said, "Years ago I lost $50 
in my first crap game and I've been trying to get it back all these 
years/' He only played with his own particular friends. At one time 
the backstage crap game at Hammerstein's was one of the biggest 
in town. It got so big they had to transfer it to the Hermitage 
across the street. Thousands were lost, and won. 

In 1911 Willie had an argument with his dad and left the 
theater. You never saw such a change in a theater overnight. The 
house dropped plenty; on a Saturday night they only had $400 in 
the till! He returned two months later (two terrible months for 
Hammerstein's) and put on a seventeen-act bill and brought biz 
back overnight. He billed it as "Colossal Vaudeville." Frank Jones 
replaced Aaron Kessler as assistant manager; Aaron became a big- 
time agent. The head usher there for many years was Dick Aber- 
nathy, the bartender was Davy (I doubt if anybody knew his last 
name), George May was the leader, Mike Simon the stage man- 
ager (later Mark Nelson replaced him), Charlie Jones was in the 
box office with Brady Greer as his assistant (Allan Schneebe fol- 


lowed Jones), and the theater's cafs name was Thornton. What 
a family! 

Willie never spurned a "freak attraction" that had been adver- 
tised in the headlines; they all meant one thing to him box office! 
Willie was unlike the typical showman. He didn't have the glamor 
of his dad; he was cold, reserved, and cynical. He would unbend 
only among his close friends, but in the main he was unresponsive. 
He was generous with passes but never used a pass pad, merely 
scribbling a circle number and W.H.; sometimes he added a date. 
It seemed very simple for he used any scrap of paper that was 
handy, but it is said that there were practically no forgeries passed 
at the box office, though many tried. (It was a practice of many 
pass-hounds to even forge them for different houses.) 

Willie booked shrewdly but fairly, and if he felt that an act 
would bring in big returns, he was willing to pay big money, but 
he wanted value received for all he paid out, and he generally got 
it. He paid many acts "show money" that wanted to be seen at 
the "Corner." Many a turn owed its professional life to the build- 
up he gave them when others were afraid to take a chance, and he 
was not afraid to put an act in for a run if he felt it would hold 
attention. Often he offered suggestions that made the difference 
between failure and success. 

Willie never showed emotion and his own personality was com- 
pletely different than the personality he gave to the theater. The 
"Corner" was a genial, friendly spot, loved by the paying patrons, 
and the gathering place of the show folk and the sporting element 
of the city. While Willie was manager, actors loved to play there; 
it was the Palace of its day. Hammerstein's was billed as the 
"stepping stone to Broadway." It was the fantastic Willie Hammer- 
stein who helped many an actor step on that magic stone to 
Broadway, fame, and fortune! 

So it was with a heavy heart that show folks heard about the 
passing of Willie Hammerstein. He died at the age of forty-two, 
in 1914. He was married twice. His first wife (mother of Oscar 2d 
and Reggie) died in 1910. Willie then married her sister (Anna 

After Willie's death, his brother Arthur and Loney Haskell and 
Lyle Andrews took over the management. The Palace was cutting 
in terribly. The "Corner" just wasn't the same without Willie. The 
place seemed to have a reversal of form. Admissions were reduced 

These Were the Kings and Rulers ... 390 

Freaks were not so popular. Mrs. "Gyp the Blood" and Mrs. "Lefty 
Louie," whose husbands had been electrocuted for the murder of 
Rosenthal the bookmaker, wanted a job, although not keen to do 
an act; they were turned down. Later Arthur booked a few freaks; 
it paid off. He made many changes. The colored male ushers were 
changed, after fifteen or twenty years, to colored girl ushers. It 
was all a different show biz than when Willie was alive. The 
Palace was ushering in a new era. It wasn't Arthur's fault he 
couldn't make the "Corner" pay off. 

Hanimerstein's went up for sale for $125,000 yearly rent for re- 
mainder of a ten-year ground lease; it stood Hammerstein about 
$50,000 a year rent and taxes. Arthur Mayer and his associates 
bought up the lease, rebuilt the old place, and called it the Rialto 
( 1916) . The last bill at the Victoria was the week of April 26, 1915. 
The bill was: Overture, Althea Twin Sisters, Dainty Marie, Harry 
Breen, Exposition Four, O'Brien Havel Co., Intermission, Will 
Rogers, Ruby Norton & Sammy Lee, Frank Fogarty, Princess Rajah 
(funny she should be on the last bill in the theater that made her 
a headliner), and a Charlie Chaplin comedy picture and the 
exit march] As an afterpiece at the last show there was a special 
minstrel show with Frank Fogarty as the interlocutor. 

Arthur tried to start vaude again with William Morris at the 
Forty-fourth Street Theatre, but was refused bookings by the 
U.B.O., which claimed that his franchise applied only to the Vic- 
toria. The Forty-fourth Street idea didn't last long after that, 
although he had a few real big vaude shows.